The Body Language Of Walruses: Scientific Communication Strategies

10 min read

Walruses are highly social marine mammals known for their distinctive features, including long tusks and large bodies. They inhabit the Arctic region and spend a significant amount of time in water, relying on their exceptional swimming capabilities. While vocalizations play a crucial role in their communication, recent studies have revealed that body language also serves as a vital means of interaction among walruses.

One aspect of walrus body language is their use of postures and movements to convey different messages. For instance, during times of aggression or competition, walruses may employ various threatening displays such as inflating their chests, raising their heads high, and making abrupt movements towards opponents. Conversely, when feeling non-threatening or submissive, they may lower their heads, relax their bodies, and even expose their vulnerable underbellies. These postural cues are essential for maintaining social hierarchy and resolving conflicts within walrus populations. Furthermore, researchers have observed that body language can also be used for coordination during group activities such as hauling out onto ice floes or vocalizing in unison.

Visual Signals

Walruses use body language as part of their visual signals to communicate with each other. Through a variety of specific behaviors and movements, they are able to convey messages and express emotions. One important visual signal used by walruses is their facial expressions. They can use various combinations of eye movements, tusk positioning, and snorting to communicate their mood or intent.

Another important visual signal used by walruses is their posture or body position. They can change their body orientation and position to convey different messages. For example, a walrus may raise its head and arch its back to communicate dominance or aggression, while a lowered head and hunched body may signal submission or appeasement.


Furthermore, walruses also use their flippers to communicate through specific movements. They can clap their flippers together rapidly to express excitement or as a sign of aggression. Additionally, they use their flippers to make various gestures, such as waving or slapping the water, which can be interpreted as a form of communication.

Overall, walruses do use body language as part of their visual signals to communicate with each other. Through facial expressions, posture, and flipper movements, they are able to convey important messages and emotions without vocalizing. Understanding these visual signals is crucial for the social dynamics and interactions within walrus populations.

Auditory Communication

Auditory communication is the use of sound to convey information and communicate messages. It plays a crucial role in the animal kingdom, allowing species to communicate with one another and maintain social interactions. Walruses, in particular, rely heavily on auditory communication to express themselves and interact with their environment.

While walruses are known for their distinctive vocalizations, they also utilize a variety of body language cues to communicate. These cues can include posturing, gestures, and movements, which serve as visual signals to convey different messages. However, it is important to note that auditory communication is the primary means of communication for walruses, with body language acting as a supplemental form of communication.

Walruses produce a wide range of vocalizations, including bell-like sounds, growls, roars, and whistles. These vocalizations are used for various purposes, such as establishing territory, expressing aggression or dominance, attracting mates, and coordinating group movements. By listening to and interpreting these sounds, walruses are able to understand the intentions and social hierarchies within their communities.

Tactile Interactions

Tactile interactions in walruses play a crucial role in their communication. These interactions involve physical contact and are primarily facilitated through the use of their long tusks. Walruses use their tusks to touch and rub against each other, conveying important social cues and information. By using their tusks, walruses can establish dominance, initiate play, and express affiliative behavior within their social groups.

One common tactile interaction among walruses is called “tusking.” During tusking, two walruses face each other and intertwine their tusks, engaging in a tactile exchange. This behavior can be observed in both males and females and serves as a way for walruses to assert dominance and establish their social hierarchy. The intensity and duration of tusking can vary, reflecting the individual walruses’ social status and relationships within the group.

In addition to tusking, walruses also engage in other forms of tactile communication, such as body contact and touching with their flippers. Walruses use their flippers to stroke, push, or nudge each other, conveying a range of social messages. Body contact and flipper touching are often observed during social interactions, such as greetings, bonding, and mating rituals.

Overall, it is clear that walruses utilize various tactile interactions, including tusking and body contact, to communicate and establish social relationships. These physical exchanges serve as an important means of conveying dominance, forming bonds, and maintaining social cohesion within walrus populations.

Scent-based Communication

Scent-based communication is a form of communication that relies on the transmission and reception of chemical signals. In the case of walruses, they do use scent-based communication to communicate with each other. This type of communication plays an important role in various social interactions, such as mating, territory marking, and recognizing individuals within a group.

Walruses possess a highly developed sense of smell, with specialized olfactory organs that enable them to detect and interpret chemical cues in their environment. They have a strong sense of smell due to the large number of olfactory receptors present in their nasal cavity.

By releasing specific scents, such as pheromones, through their bodies and marking their surroundings with their odors, walruses can convey important information to other members of their species. These chemical signals can transmit messages about an individual’s reproductive status, hierarchical rank, or territorial boundaries. For example, during the mating season, males release pheromones to attract females and assert their availability for reproduction.

In addition to scent-based communication, walruses also use various visual and vocal signals to communicate with each other. Body language, such as specific postures or movements, may be employed alongside scent-based communication as part of their overall communication system.

Postural Displays

Postural displays can be observed in various animal species, including walruses. These displays involve the use of body language as a means of communication. In the case of walruses, they use specific postures and movements to convey information to each other within their social group.

Walruses are known to exhibit a range of postural displays, which can serve different purposes. For example, during aggressive encounters, dominant males may adopt an erect posture with their heads held high and their tusks prominently displayed. This posture signals dominance and acts as a visual deterrent to potential rivals. Conversely, subordinate individuals may adopt a more submissive posture, often crouching low to the ground or turning their heads away.


Postural displays in walruses can also be used for courtship and mating purposes. Males may engage in ritualized fights, accompanied by various postures and movements, to establish their dominance and attract females. Females, on the other hand, may use specific postures to signal their receptivity to mating.

It is important to note that postural displays are just one component of walrus communication. Vocalizations, touch, and other behaviors also play a role in their social interactions. However, postural displays are particularly prominent in walrus communication due to their physical characteristics, such as their large size and impressive tusks.


Overall, postural displays in walruses are a vital aspect of their communication repertoire. Through specific body language and movements, walruses are able to convey information about dominance, submission, courtship, and other social interactions within their species. These displays contribute to the complex social dynamics of walrus society, allowing individuals to navigate their social hierarchy and reproductive strategies.


Vocalizations are sounds produced by animals as a means of communication. Walruses, although primarily known for their physical body language, also use vocalizations to convey information. These sounds can serve various purposes, such as establishing social connections, expressing aggression or submission, locating their herd, and coordinating group activities.

Walrus vocalizations are low-frequency sounds that can travel long distances underwater. They are produced by expelling air through the nostrils, resulting in a distinctive “roar” or “bellow” that can be heard both above and below the water’s surface. These vocalizations are generated by both mature males, known as bulls, and females, known as cows.


Mature male walruses are particularly vocal during the breeding season when they aim to attract females and establish dominance. Their vocal repertoire consists of booming roars, bellows, and sharp knocks produced by hitting their tusks together. These sounds not only serve as a means of advertisement to attract potential mates but also communicate their social status and dominance to other males.

Females also use vocalizations to communicate, particularly during maternal care and social interactions within the herd. They produce a range of sounds, including whistles, clicks, and grunts. These vocalizations are used to maintain contact with their calves and coordinate group movements, especially during foraging or escaping from predators.

Feeding Behavior

Walruses, like many other social animals, use body language as a means of communication. This behavior is particularly evident during feeding. Walruses communicate through a variety of physical gestures and postures, which help them establish dominance, communicate intentions, and coordinate group activities related to feeding.


During feeding, walruses often display dominance behavior to establish their position within the group hierarchy. Dominant individuals may adopt an upright posture and display their tusks to assert their authority over others. They might also make vocalizations, such as bellowing or clicking sounds, to communicate dominance and maintain control over food resources.

Walruses also use body language to coordinate group activities while feeding. For example, they will often form cooperative foraging groups and engage in synchronized behaviors. This can include surfacing together, diving together, or even using their bodies to herd and corral prey. These coordinated movements help maximize their feeding efficiency and allow walruses to work together in gathering food resources.

Furthermore, body postures, such as head turning, trunk curling, or tusk motions, can convey specific intentions or signals during feeding. For example, a walrus might tilt its head to indicate interest in a particular food item, or it might raise its head and tusks to intimidate competitors and assert dominance over a feeding area.

Final Implications

In conclusion, walruses employ a range of body language to communicate with one another. They utilize various postures, movements, vocalizations, and tactile interactions as means of conveying information and establishing social bonds within their groups. Through their distinct behaviors such as tusk displays, head movements, and roaring sounds, walruses are able to express aggression, submission, playfulness, and other intentions. Additionally, tactile interactions such as nuzzling and flippers-on-body contact further enhance social cohesion among individuals. It is evident that body language plays a crucial role in the communication repertoire of walruses, enabling them to navigate their social structures and interact effectively in their environment.

In examining the body language of walruses, researchers have gained valuable insights into their social dynamics and interactions. Through observational studies and analysis of behavioral patterns, scientists have documented the significance of body language among walrus populations. However, further research is necessary to fully comprehend the intricacies of walrus communication and the specific meanings behind their various postures, movements, and vocalizations. Understanding the nuances of walrus body language can not only shed light on their social behaviors but also inform conservation efforts and management strategies for the long-term well-being of these unique marine mammals.

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