BBC nature film director Jeff Wilson and his team were
filming spectacled eider — large arctic sea ducks — from a helicopter. At this time of year, the ducks gather in
huge, floating flocks that make for impressive footage.
But suddenly, something weird happened. “There were certain pockets of ducks that
started to fly away in big starbursts. It’s not normal for ducks to expend
energy like that,” Wilson said. The culprit soon surfaced in the middle of
the starburst — a big, hungry ‘ole walrus.
“It then started to chase the ducks. It was pretty obvious
it was hunting them,” Wilson says. During the 75 minutes the crew filmed,
the walrus made eight such attacks.
This is a highly unusual behavior for walruses, who mostly
eat mollusks and other small seafloor prey. Walruses have been known to eat a
bird if the opportunity presents itself — who wouldn’t? But no one has ever
reported a walrus attack on a large flock and this is the first time such
behavior has been caught on film.
Professor James Lovvorn of Southern Illinois University is
on the case. He thinks the walrus’s repeated attacks on the flock and the ducks’
dramatic reaction are indications that ducks may be on the menu for walruses. He
is concerned that lurking walruses might restrict eider flocks that number in
the thousands to a few patches of open water. Professor Lovvorn’s
study is published in the Journal of the Arctic Institute of North America.
Footage of the walrus attacks is available on BBC Earth News.
Image: Disturbed Ducks, BBC Earth News