A walrus was spotted on a Latvian beach in the early hours of the morning, the first time the species has been seen in that country and one of only a few sightings in the Baltic as a whole.
The specimen was spotted at around 3 a.m. on Monday on a beach at Liepaja, on the Courland coast around 200km west of Riga and 50km north of the Lithuanian border, and was photographed and filmed, LSM reports (link in Latvian).
Valis Pilats, mammal expert at Latvia's nature conservation board, said this is the first recorded instance of a walrus appearing on the Latvian coast.
Pilats said: "The natural habitat of walruses is cold and icy waters. This means the Baltic Sea is not suitable for the species, as there are no large shells, shrimps, soft corals, sea cucumbers and other species typical of the northern seas suitable for it to eat here. It seems that the walrus is fatigued and hungry by now."
Walruses can also present a danger to humans if approached, meaning the Latvian authorities are urging people not to approach the stranded animal, which has since moved on, it is reported.
The walrus, or Odobenus Rosmarus, in the case of the Atlantic subspecies – the Pacific sub-species is O. r. divergens) is an endangered animal according to the international red book and its natural habitat is the Arctic Ocean and environs. It is not generally found even in such northerly locations as Iceland and mainland Norway, and is only extant in Canada, Greenland, the Russian Federation, Svalbard and Jan Mayen and Alaska, though vagrant or uncertain incidences have been reported in the Baltic in the past, as well as in countries with North Atlantic coastlines such as the U.K., the U.S. states of Maine and Massachusetts, and even as far south as Spain.
A walrus was spotted last month off the Baltic coast of Germany and subsequently off the coast of Poland – the sighting may well be of the same animal as was seen in Liepaja, which some experts say may be a young female.
Latvia's conservation board has asked members of the public to report any further sightings and naturally the same would apply in Estonia, in which case the Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet) should be contacted on 662 5999, or the general state helpline on 1247 (The Estonian term for walrus is "Morsk").
Walruses can remain under water for up to 30 minutes without needing to take a breath, while their insulating blubber is up to 15cm in thickness. The famous tusks, used variously for display, in attacking prey, in fighting with other walruses and even in maneuvering on icy slopes, can grow up to a meter in length.
In many areas where they are extant, the species is overhunted, almost to the point of extinction, LSM reports.
The walrus is not the only recent sighting of an unusual animal off the Latvian coast - in April, a whale was spotted and photographed swimming off the Gulf of Riga.
Editor: Andrew Whyte