Ruegen is the largest German island and is located at the entrance to the Baltic Sea. The island is popular with tourists because of its climate and extensive sandy beaches. Normally, washed up marine animals or algae can be found on them. But what was discovered last week on one of the beaches made some researchers (and news portals) prick up their ears: A walrus was lolling on the beach and stayed there for a few hours to rest.
As several German news portals reported last Friday, the more than two-meter Arctic resident was reported by a visitor on a sandy beach on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen. Scientists from the German Oceanographic Museum in Stralsund and a veterinarian certified that the animal was “fit” and also had no injuries. According to the museum’s experts, the animal was probably a young female, which is also evident from the pictures and video footage due to the tusks. The walrus stayed on the beach all day and only went back into the water in the evening.
Thanks to barriers and the considerate behavior of the numerous onlookers, the female walrus was able to enjoy a day on the beach of Rügen and then return undisturbed to the sea in the evening. Image: Screenshot video Alexandra Bohl
The curator of marine mammals at the German Oceanographic Museum, Michael Daehne, told the media that this visit of a walrus represents the first documented case for the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and only the second or third case in the inner Baltic Sea area. This year already in southeast Sweden at the coast another walrus was reported whereby, after comparison of pictorial material, it was not the same animal as on Ruegen, explained Daehne further. To ensure that the female remained undisturbed on the beach, museum staff set up an exclusion zone, but it still allowed visitors and onlookers to observe the rare visitor. “People were thrilled, because such an opportunity does not present itself too often. They all kept to the barriers excellently,” praised Daehne the behavior of the people.
The walrus’ visit to Ruegen joins a succession of unexpected visits by Arctic animals far outside their original habitat. Last year, walrus “Wally”, named by the media, paid a visit to the coasts of Ireland, Great Britain, France and Spain before disappearing again in the direction of Iceland and Greenland. And in the Netherlands and the Frisian Islands, a young walrus cow was also observed several times taking breaks on the beaches. For experts, these sightings are on the one hand a possible consequence of increasing population numbers on Svalbard. On the other hand, however, could be climate change and the constantly shrinking habitat. Although Svalbard and also East Greenland recorded a lot of dense pack ice in their eastern areas this year. But overall, the amount was below the long-term average in the Arctic, as it has been for years.
For walruses, which spend a large part of their lives on the pack ice, visits to beaches are only for resting. They usually spend a few hours huddled together in groups to warm up again in the warm sand, and then go back to hunting for shells in the sandy and soft seabeds. What the animals like the one on Ruegen feed on is not known, but it is probably of the same kind as in the Arctic. The museum team hopes that the female will find her way back to the North Sea and from there north again. People can report any observations to the appropriate authorities in their country.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
Featured image: Screenshot video by Vivica von Vietinghoff
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