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keberoxu BS: Icelandic POV on Valli the Walrus (9) Valli the Walrus (Kjarninn website) 23 Sep 21


The English-speaking news media call him Wally the Walrus,
and have been tracking his movements since March,
as he is a long ways away from any colonies of walruses.

But in Iceland, where he last came to shore,
he is Valli the 'rostungur'.

21 September 2021
Walrus visits to Iceland are very rare ...
the animal's natural home is on the edge of the ice shelf in the Arctic Ocean.
Calling him a villain and a destroyer ('dólg'), as some media outlets have done, has gone too far.
"He was resting. That was all he was doing," says Edda Elísabet Magnúsdóttir, marine and behavioral ecologist. When he messed about with boats in shallow water, it showed first and foremost the distress he was in. "Perhaps we interpret this as rude behavior -- someone boards our boat uninvited. But he is a wild animal in a completely unfamiliar environment, finding a place to rest. He is like an alien there: juvenile, lacking anyone older with him to give a signal about where to go and what to do."
'Valli' is, in Edda's opinion, a young, immature male, no older than six or seven years. He has now left the British Isles, is headed north, and is taking a short break from his travels in Iceland. He could now relocate to Svalbard [in Norway], or to the east coast of Greenland.
Walruses thrive at the edge of the Arctic ice shelf and in shallow waters. Although they are great swimmers, deep diving is not their strong point. They want to be able to dive from the ice into the sea in order to root for mussels and shellfish on the sea floor.

During the age of human settlement in Iceland, walruses were a common sight, mainly in West Iceland and in the Western fjords. A DNA study of mitochondria from 34 teeth, bones and skulls of walruses, was the subject of a scientific article by a group of scientists from Iceland, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The bones turned out to be from 800 years to 9,000 years old, and were found in Iceland. This recent study confirmed for the first time that Iceland had a special population of walruses which did not live long.
"It is confirmed that there was a special Icelandic stock here and that it came to an end shortly before or after the initial settlement by humans, probably primarily due to overfishing," said Hilmar J. Mamquist, a biologist and one of the article's authors. "These results support the theories of Bergsveinn Birgisson, Bjarni F. Einarson and others, that the demand for walruses and other marine animals may have been the main driving force behind the [human] settlement of Iceland [. . .] The extinction of the Icelandic walrus population could thus be the oldest example of extinction due to overfishing, for the teeth, skins, and fish oil of walruses were a valuable commodity in the Viking Age."
Every place name in Iceland that comes from 'whaling' wherever it may be in the country, does not seem to be related to whales, but rather to walruses. Other place names have long indicated that walruses were common here: An example of this, in Reykjanes, is the place name Rosmhvalanes, as 'rosmhvalur' is an archaic name for a walrus. "These names indicate that walruses have come there regularly," according to Eddi Elísabet, who also says, "Habitat destruction is a threat to them. They are already sustaining enormous losses of habitats, and they are beginning to be severely restricted."

Even during the winter, there is less ice, and the walruses go ashore more often, and often have to travel very long distances to get food. This can have catastrophic consequences. They not only go ashore, they even go up on cliffs, and then have trouble returning to the sea. They unintentionally kill themselves, falling off the cliffs, "because there they are in a very unusual situation."

Edda finds it "incredibly remarkable" that Valli has gone all the way to Ireland and even further. "First and foremost it shows us the swimming ability of these animals. I have full faith that he will find his way. Get back home. I hope he continues north, and finds a coastal area off Svalbard or Greenland. Now the winter is ahead of him, and he needs to find some good feeding grounds."

Walruses learn from each other, and today, of course, it is no longer in their memory to go to the shores of Iceland. It has been dozens, if not hundreds, of generations since walruses had a regular presence here. But can we expect more walruses to come here in the future?
"That would not surprise me," says Edda. "When their native ice shelf is breaking up, melting, then they need to find new areas. This is how the distribution of animals develops. If the environment changes, then they need to find new areas."

The preceding is mostly Google Translate. The original article can be found online in its Icelandic language.


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