Feeding behaviour of free-ranging walruses with notes on apparent dextrality of flipper use.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Direct observations of underwater behaviour of free-living marine mammals are rare. This is particularly true for large and potentially dangerous species such as the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus). Walruses are highly specialised predators on benthic invertebrates - especially bivalves. The unique feeding niche of walruses has led to speculations as to their underwater foraging behaviour. Based on observations of walruses in captivity and signs of predation left on the sea floor by free-living walruses, various types of feeding behaviour have been suggested in the literature. In this study, however, the underwater feeding behaviour of wild adult male Atlantic walruses (O. r. rosmarus) is documented for the first time in their natural habitat by scuba-divers. The video recordings indicated a predisposition for use of the right front flipper during feeding. This tendency towards dextrality was explored further by examining a museum collection of extremities of walrus skeletons. RESULTS: During July and August 2001, twelve video-recordings of foraging adult male walruses were made in Young Sound (74 degrees 18 N; 20 degrees 15 V), Northeast Greenland. The recordings did not allow for differentiation among animals, however based on notes by the photographer at least five different individuals were involved. The walruses showed four different foraging behaviours; removing sediment by beating the right flipper, removing sediment by beating the left flipper, removing sediment by use of a water-jet from the mouth and rooting through sediment with the muzzle. There was a significant preference for using right flipper over left flipper during foraging. Measurements of the dimensions of forelimbs from 23 walrus skeletons revealed that the length of the right scapula, humerus, and ulna was significantly greater than that of the left, supporting our field observations of walruses showing a tendency of dextrality in flipper use. CONCLUSION: We suggest that the four feeding behaviours observed are typical of walruses in general, although walruses in other parts of their range may have evolved other types of feeding behaviour. While based on small sample sizes both the underwater observations and skeletal measurements suggest lateralized limb use, which is the first time this has been reported in a pinniped.
Project description:Abstract Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) play a vital role in Arctic marine ecosystems and the subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Native communities. Museum collections contain numerous archaeological and historic walrus specimens that have proven useful in a variety of studies; however, for many cases, the sex of these specimens is unknown. Sexes of adult (> 5 years determined by tooth aging) Atlantic walruses (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus) have been accurately determined in previous studies using mandible measurements. We tested the validity of this approach for Pacific walruses, and used full fusion of the mandibular symphysis to define adults. Using high precision digital calipers (± 0.01 mm), four measurements were taken either on the left or right side of 91 walrus mandibles: 80 modern mandibles (70 known-sex specimens; 10 unknown-sex specimens) and 11 archaeological mandibles of unknown sex. We used linear discriminant function analysis (LDFA) to determine what measurements best distinguished Pacific walrus males from females. Minimum mandible thickness had the most predictive power, whereas mandible length, height, and depth, were less predictive. Posterior probabilities indicated that LDFA classified the known-sex Pacific walruses with 100% accuracy, and unknown sex with ? 90% probability. The ability to define the sex of unknown individuals accurately could greatly increase the sample size of future projects dealing with skeletal remains, and will improve future research efforts.
Project description:Walruses, Odobenus rosmarus, play a key role in the Arctic ecosystem, including northern Indigenous communities, which are reliant upon walruses for aspects of their diet and culture. However, walruses face varied environmental threats including rising sea-water temperatures and decreasing ice cover. An underappreciated threat may be the large amount of solar ultraviolet radiation (UV) that continues to reach the Arctic as a result of ozone loss. UV has been shown to negatively affect whales. Like whales, walrus skin is unprotected by fur, but in contrast, walruses spend long periods of time hauled-out on land. In this study, we combined the results of histological analyses of skin sections from five Atlantic walruses, Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus, collected in Nunavik (Northern Quebec, Canada) with qualitative data obtained through the interviews of 33 local walrus hunters and Inuit Elders. Histological analyses allowed us to explore UV-induced cellular lesions and interviews with experienced walrus hunters and Elders helped us to study the incidences and temporal changes of UV-induced gross lesions in walruses. At the microscopic scale, we detected a range of skin abnormalities consistent with UV damage. However, currently such UV effects do not seem to be widely observed at the whole-animal level (i.e., absence of skin blistering, erythema, eye cataract) by individuals interviewed. Although walruses may experience skin damage under normal everyday UV exposure, the long-term data from local walrus hunters and Inuit Elders did not report a relation between the increased sun radiation secondary to ozone loss and walrus he