Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Walruses Are Chatterboxes

7 Walross 1999
© Ansgar Walk (via Wikimedia Commons)
You'll never hear a walrus say "goo goo g'joob" like you hear in a certain famous song, but these animals do love to vocalize. In fact, they're some of the biggest chatterboxes among the pinnipeds ("fin-footed" mammals). They use their vocal cords to make sounds both above and below water. Like almost all animals, they use body language for some communication, but they also bark, grunt, whistle and click at each other. If young walruses are scared, they bellow for mom (who recognizes the voice of her son or daughter). When males fight for dominance, they roar, cough and snort. A male walrus can use air sacs in his pharynx to make noises that sound like ringing bells or gongs when he's underwater. He does this during the breeding season when he's trying to attract the lady walruses. The air pouches can also be used as amplifiers, and they help the walrus remain upright in the water when he wants to sing to the ladies who are watching from ice packs.

Male walruses can also make a knocking sound from their foreheads, which is unusual because no air is released when they make the sound. Researchers aren't yet sure how they do it.

The moms teach their young how to communicate, and this is extremely important for the health and well-being of the developing walrus calf. Researchers who have studied walruses in captivity have observed that, without that socialization, babies do not eat or grow properly.

You can hear walrus sounds for yourself at the Western Soundscape Library.

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