Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

I Wish I Was A Walrus

The walrus is my new hero.

A new study on their sleeping habits has revealed that they are some of the world’s most unusual sleepers, since they can sleep anywhere. They also break the world’s record for continuously staying awake.

They sleep while floating on the surface, lying on the bottom or when standing or leaning.

The most prominent physical feature of the walrus is its long tusks which are present in both sexes and can reach a length of 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) and weigh up to 5.4 kilograms (12 lb). These are slightly longer and thicker among males, who use them for fighting, dominance and display; the strongest males with the largest tusks typically dominate social groups. Tusks are also used to form and maintain holes in the ice and haul out onto ice.

Sleeping walrus

Sleeping walrus

But most importantly (for this story anyway) walruses also catch some shuteye by literally hanging out, since the researchers say the animals have been seen resting in water while using their tusks to hang from ice floes. Gently floating in the water, well supported with your nose in the air – I could do that.

This sleep position has to be extremely comfortable for an animal that can weigh up to 4,400 lbs (2,000 kg).

When the walruses sleep underwater, they can hold their breath for about 4 to 5 minutes. Although the marine mammals experienced REM sleep while in water, it was fleeting.

On land, the walruses settled into very deep sleep that could last for up to 19 hours. (!) REM sleep was characterized by posture changes — the neck extended and the head moved forward and rested on the platform — muscle and whisker jerks as well as rapid eye movements.

The study found that walruses experience “unihemispheric sleep,” where one half of the brain sleeps while the other stays active. Wouldn’t this be handy for those people who currently have too much work to handle?

The scientists also determined walruses engage in periods of almost continuous swimming for up to 84 hours, but since they swam continuously while in water, this still doesn’t explain how they withstand such extended bouts of activity.

For all you work-a-holics out there, just imagine being able to function properly for up to 84 hours at a time. One half of your brain sound asleep, the other cracking away on all cylinders!

Makes me tired just thinking about it – I believe I’ll go try for some of that 19 hours of REM.

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