Part of a series based on Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl. Walruses are massive arctic pinnipeds, a group of marine mammals that includes seals. Males can grow up to 12 feet long and weigh 3,500 lbs. January to March is the heterosexual breeding season. Males mate with several females but form no long-lasting bonds. At other times when both sexes are present, they are mostly segregated. When the females and their calves go north for the summer, it’s time for the males to stay behind and really indulge their inner gay Walrus.
In groups of up to fifty individuals, male walruses float at the surface and engage in homosexual courtship, intercourse and affection. They solicit boyfriends by perching on their favourite boulder or beach, inflating their throat pouches and issuing a series of vocalisations. One or both males may also dive and resurface until his intended gets the message and/or the horn. Sometimes a group will gather round to hear a homosexual courtship song, or the courting Walrus will be accompanied and helped out with his song by a younger attendant male.
Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)
Homosexuality: Male Behaviours: Courtship, Affectionate, Sexual, Pair-bonding Ranking: Primary Observed: Wild, Captivity
(See It’s Gay Animal Fortnight for an explanation of this box.)
Another part of homosexual Walrus courtship that will provide unpleasant flashbacks for some but excite size queens is this (quote from Bagemihl): “[the] male rubs his erect, arm-sized penis with his front flipper”. Male Walruses, as you can probably guess, aim to have anal sex with each other. They also like to masturbate, and they make a special sound when they do so. About 25% of interactions between males are sexual, courting or homosocial/homoerotic. Even during the breeding season younger males may be having sex with each other instead of with females, and they take part in exclusively homosexual activity for up to four or five years before they have the chance of a heterosexual mating. Male Walruses in captivity have also had gay encounters with Grey Seals. As one does.
As for females, the extensive sex segregation is probably the best thing that ever happened to them since males have no interest in females except for reproductive purposes and tend to be extremely belligerent and violent towards them. Females often band together to care for their calves. This somewhat protects them from being gored or trampled, although childless females are also prone to kidnapping calves from other females. Even so, males sometimes kill hundreds of females or calves by instigating stampedes and general outbreaks of mass male-on-female violence. So I think we can add a somewhat unscientific but fairly undeniable misogyny to the list of Walrus sexual behaviours. They’re a bit like obese, semi-aquatic Spartans.
Next time on Gay Animal Fortnight… Bowerbirds: they don’t like show tunes, but they do love decoration.
Original Walrus image from Wikipedia Commons.