Walruses can make lots of noise

Photo credit: Putulik Jaaka from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This fascinating article in The Atlantic describes research into how male walruses make noise to attract mates. The research subject was Sivuqaq, an orphaned walrus rescued as a calf who spent the rest of his life at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California.

As the article notes, “[a]t times, Sivuqaq would simply clap underwater for hours on end, banging his flippers together at one-second intervals to generate a sort of metronomic thunder, each peal intense enough to clock in at 200 decibels.” 200 decibels is about the loudest biological sound recorded underwater.

Researchers tried to figure out how he did this. It turns out that Sivuqaq moved his flippers fast enough to cause cavitation, turning the water into a gas, with bubbles that then collapse and release a tremendous amount of energy which also causes sound.

Sivuqaq did attract the two females in the walrus enclosure, but unfortunately the only successful pregnancy ended with a stillbirth. Despite that, he contributed to science in terms of increasing the understanding of how male walruses attract mates.

For me, the article also emphasizes the importance of keeping Arctic waters as quiet as possible so lonely male walruses can find mates.


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