Wally the Wandering Walrus


The walrus is one of the most recognizable animals on the planet. The giant, tusked creature looks like no other, which makes sense when one realizes they are the only extant species in their family, Odobenidae.

Adult males can weigh nearly two tons. They feature twisty tusks and winsome whiskers. When you see a walrus, you know it’s a walrus. But when you’ve seen a walrus, unless you live near the Arctic Circle, you’ve most likely seen a walrus in a zoo or a sanctuary.

In the wild, walruses stick to a specific, very cold range.

Mama walrus with baby walrus - image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The usual range of the walrus; the North Pole at the crosshair - graphic by Mirko Thiessen

As you can see in the graphic above, these critters like to stay in the northern climes. Sightings, even in notoriously chilly spots, such as Iceland, have become increasingly rare.

Don’t tell that to a young walrus named Wally, though.

On the ides of March 2021, a walrus appeared on the coast of County Kerry in Ireland. According to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, the visit was just the third by a walrus to the country since 1999.

Experts believed the adolescent probably strayed from his normal hunting grounds in search of new sources of food or, perhaps, a novel breeding ground. Wally, if thou searchest for a mate, the rocks of Eire will not yield your dream!

Wally chilled in Ireland for a short period, then pushed seaward, but he didn’t go home. Instead of retreating north, he headed east, around the island and toward Great Britain. Five days after his Irish stop, Wally appeared in Wales. He took refuge at Broad Haven South beach, Pembrokeshire, before, once again, hitting the ocean. A week later, he was still in the vicinity, near Tenby. This time, he decided to make use of a man-made suntanning station.

Cleopatra Browne of Welsh Marine Life Rescue noted, “It was a whopper. I’ve seen them on telly and the news but it was huge.”

Wally lounges on a slipway in Tenby, Wales - photo by Rhian Field

The walrus remained in Wales for a couple of months, which prompted human beings to flock to see him. Officials warned people to remain at a distance from Wally, for his safety and theirs. Instead, surfers, paddleboarders, and jet skiers got too close. 

Wally wasn’t satisfied with just Ireland and Wales, so he headed south, surfacing next in England at Padstow. A week later, Wally bid the English-speaking world adieu, heading south again, toward France.

Wally in England - picture by Nathaniel Barry
It seemed only a matter of time until Wally’s fame caught up with his sojourn. In Les Sables d’Olonne, he collided with a boat. The town dispatched experts to care for a slight injury. A walrus had not been sighted in this small French town for at least 50 years, so Wally decided to take a break and give photographers the chance to snap some keepsakes.
Wally in the sun in western France - photo by JF Brossier
Wally's stops from March to May - graphic by BBC

After sampling France, he then went to Spain! Wally finally seemed ready to abandon his southern movements. On 18 June, he popped up in the Isles of Scilly, off the southwestern tip of England.

Here, Wally decided to get frisky. He frolicked with the yachts, even attempting to board many of them to take a siesta! But our good boy is actually too big for his own good. He managed to damage and sink boats on the island. The inhabitants of Scilly built a special pontoon for the walrus, giving him a safe place to rest and ensuring their watercraft were no longer in danger!

Wally probing the yachts of the Isles of Scilly - photo by Will Wagstaff
Whoops! Wally sinks a ship - images by Patricia Steven and Pete Hicks
The special pontoon built for Wally in Scilly - photo by Lizzi Larbalestier

Wally seemed to be using the Isles as a spot to feed in anticipation of a long journey home.

He shoved off. And disappeared.

The network that had started to monitor his movements thought perhaps Wally’s trip might end in tragedy. But three weeks later, on 22 September, Wally relieved the world when he landed in Iceland!

The silly walrus is, at last, going home. Godspeed, Wally!

Graphic by Daily Mail
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