Walrus visits Ireland before St. Patrick’s Day | Polarjournal
A family had spotted the young walrus on Valentina Island in County Kerry, southwest Ireland, on March 14 and reported it. It stayed on land for a few hours before diving back into the water and disappearing. Image: Screenshot_RTE_news

A few weeks ago we reported that Ireland had submitted its application for observer status on the Arctic Council. The government argues that the Arctic exerts a great influence on the island nation in the North Atlantic. And as if to underline the Arctic point, a rare visitor has now turned up in Ireland: a walrus has been spotted on the southwest coast of Ireland, just before Ireland’s national holiday. This has caused some media hype.

A family walking on the beach of Valentina Island, an island in the southwest of Ireland, was astonished to discover the brown-colored visitor on the rocks. Speaking to the media, the father, Alan Houlihan, said: “The size of the animal was astronomical. It was the size of a large bull. It disappeared into the sea for a while, then came back and lay on a rock for a couple of hours. It was awesome.” Footage posted by the family on social media went viral around the world. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, a non-profit organization in Ireland, also posted pictures and information about the animal on its Social media pages. After the animal had disappeared again, it has not been rediscovered since.

Experts suspect the visitor is a young adult, but its sex cannot be determined from pictures. In the photographs the animal made a somewhat exhausted impression, but otherwise seemed healthy. This is not surprising, as the walrus probably originated from the east of Greenland, more than 2,100 kilometres away. It is unlikely that the animal had drifted on an iceberg or ice floe and then came to Ireland. This assumption was expressed by a representative of an aquarium to the Irish media. This is because the current conditions near East Greenland drive ice southwards and not towards Ireland. But the story still made the rounds.

The entry by the conservation organisation Irish Whale and Dolphin Group on Twitter shows a young animal giving an exhausted impression. Experts suspect that it came from the eastern part of Greenland, more than 2,100 kilometres away, and was searching for food sources. But it was not the first walrus in Ireland. Images: IWDG

It is not uncommon for young adults to seek out new feeding grounds when they are migratory. But swimming this far south is rare. For Ireland, it is the eleventh visit by a walrus since 1897, according to the National Biodiversity Centre. However, it is possible that, for one thing, more animals visited the island and were not reported, especially in earlier days. Other parts of Europe have also had visits from walruses. A few weeks ago a walrus caused a sensation on the coast of Thy in Denmark. Walruses also had been sighted in the UK over the last few years.

From the east coast to the southwest corner of Ireland is over 2,100 kilometres as the crow flies. Since walruses are adapted to a life in the sea, this distance is no problem swimming-wise. But food is found in only a few places, as the animals do not dive deep for shell hunting. Image: Michael Wenger via Google Earth

For Ireland, the timing of the Arctic resident’s visit is fitting in two respects: first, the Irish government has submitted its application to the Arctic Council for a seat on the observer panel, citing the influence of the Arctic on the island nation and its many polar explorers. For another, the animal showed up just as Ireland was preparing for St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national holiday. Maybe this is how the animal wanted to pay his respects to the state. Because Ireland and Greenland have a lot in common, including the colour “green”. That’s why:

LÁ FHÉILE PÁDRAIG SONA DUIT, ÉIRE!

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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