Isles of Scilly boat owners asked to 'gently deflect' Wally the Walrus with oars and erect temporary barriers


Boat owners in St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly have been asked to block bathing platforms and gently deflect Wally the Walrus with an oar if he attempts to board their boats.

The gregarious walrus, who’s come from Svalbard in Norway, has been seeking the company of humans and climbing aboard dinghies and yachts.

Walrus regular passenger on ambulance boat

Wally has become particularly fond of the island’s ambulance boat, the Star of Life, and it’s been decided that when he hauls out there he can be allowed to rest.

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If the boat gets a callout, Wally has been shown how to get off the vessel so as not to impact on the boat’s ability to respond to an emergency.

Advice to boat owners

St Mary’s Harbour team, BDMLR, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and Cornwall Seal Group have formed a working group to ensure Wally’s safety. They’ve issued the following advice to boat owners:

  • Boat owners are strongly advised to stop the walrus from hauling out on boats by blocking access with temporary barriers and obstructions
  • It’s important that the purpose-built pontoon becomes the Walrus’ “safe space”. Something that he returns to, allowing him to rest, gain strength and ultimately leave Scilly to continue his journey home
  • Please do not disturb the Walrus; keep your distance (a minimum of 50-100m)
  • When collecting/returning your boat to your moorings do so in a way that minimises disturbance to the Walrus on the pontoon
  • Please do not divert your path, or set your course, to pass the Walrus closely, or move directly towards him.

Sadly the temptation to approach Wally has proved too strong for many, says the group. “Please stay away from him,” they urge. “The Walrus is a highly protected species and disturbance of this nature is a criminal offence. Even a lift of the head means his rest has been interrupted.”

Boat owners have been asked to block access to their boats. Photo: Tom Owen

“We are aware that the pontoon is moored within an active and busy harbour and are not expecting people to not use their boats,” they add. “For those moored near Wally’s pontoon, please access your boats as efficiently as you can, leave your moorings by moving away from where the pontoon is and approach your moorings to pick-up by the same means.”

Where has the Wally the Walrus come from?

Alaskan walrus expert Lori Quakenbush thinks the walrus has come from Svalbard (north of Norway – over 3,200km from the Isles of Scilly) meaning the young male has used up a lot of energy making the journey.

It’s not known why the walrus has come so far south, but we do know that climate change is melting Arctic ice that walrus would normally haul-out on. It’s common for young male walruses to wander and explore, though not normally this far.

What should the walrus normally be doing?

Walruses are highly social creatures and seek physical comfort with others. Even if there are only two walruses on the beach they will usually lie touching each other.

Has Wally made the Isles of Scilly his home?

Given Wally’s previous mobility and typical walrus behaviour, Lori expects him to move on soon; but he will only be able to do so if he has the energy to make the 3,200km journey home. He needs to feed-up on invertebrates (clams are his favourite food) and rest peacefully without being interrupted.

Lori warns that if he’s continually distracted he won’t gain the weight and energy required for his journey home. Although he is feeding well, he’s not resting as much as he should be.

As with seals, it’s important to give walruses space, say the Cornwall Seal Group.

Why is Wally the Walrus seeking human company?

Wally’s preference for warm, soft RIBs, and the way he curls up into enclosed spaces suggests he’s missing his walrus companions. It’s been suggested that when he mouths parts of boats, this is a form of self-soothing.

“His story is exceptionally sad and invites our compassion,” says the BDMLR and the Harbour Authority, who have constructed a special pontoon for the walrus, designed to replicate his need for physical contact.

Special walrus pontoon

The special pontoon has been moored close to where Wally normally hauls-out in the hope he will use it instead of the Star or Life or any other local vessel. The walrus has found it and returned to it on a number of occasions in between feeding excursions. It might be that the pontoon can be relocated outside the harbour to minimise disturbance.

Will Wally go home eventually?

It’s hoped so. It’s his nature to move on, and he’s already shown his ability to move great distances by visiting Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, France and Spain. His body condition is good and he’s feeding. He just needs to build-up his energy levels first.

Why can’t Wally the Walrus be airlifted home?

According to wildlife experts, Wally is so big that it would take too long for a sedative to take effect and he would likely take off into the water and die. A fifth of walruses are known to have died under anaesthesia and previous attempts at relocating other mobile marine species have proved unsuccessful as the animals simply swim the long distances back to where they want to be.

Please leave him alone

The best thing we can do for Wally is to stay away from him, say St Mary’s Harbour team, BDMLR, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and Cornwall Seal Group.

“As a massive bulky creature, any sudden movement by him when spooked could result in an accident, with serious repercussions for not only the people involved but for him too.”

For Wally’s safety, please keep at least 100m between yourself and him.

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