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Face To Face With Walruses

American wildlife photographer Paul Souders went on a three week-long sea expedition off one of the world's most remote and northern islands - Spitzbergen, in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway - to photograph walruses. 

A walrus swims underwater off the Tiholmane Islands

A walrus on sea ice near Wahlberg Island in Svalbard

Walruses sparring in shallow waters off Lagoya Island in Svalbard, Norway

A walrus swimming underwater off the Tiholmane Islands in Svalbard

A walrus on sea ice near Kapp Lee in midnight sun on Edgeoya Island

"As the pack ice recedes in summer, the walruses haul out onto gravel beaches, sometimes in massive belching, farting and fighting piles," says Paul. "When they're not resting and sleeping onshore, most will swim out from shore to their shallow feeding grounds. From here they dive and feed on mollusks on the ocean floor. They also love their beachside naps and like the rest of us - they hate to be disturbed."

Paul says that working with such large and unpredictable creatures is not without its dangers - and sometimes his only protection was his £8,000 worth of camera equipment. "The first time I slid off the iceberg into the water, my pulse was racing, my teeth were chattering," Paul said. One of the walruses took notice and swam over, doing a slow, cautious pass beneath me. Then he swam right up to the dome of my underwater camera. I finally had to give him a little shove to push him back. I took a couple of good head butts - where the guys back on my boat could hear a loud "clack" from ivory on my glass dome."

    A walrus sleeping on sea ice near Wahlberg Island in Svalbard

"...I do wonder what is says about me that I'm drawn to the coldest, bleakest, more expensive, lonely and remote destinations on Earth!"

A walrus splashing in the shallow sea off Lagoya Island

"The water is ice-cream-headache-inducingly cold - your lips will turn blue and go instantly numb," says Paul. "It's an incredibly vulnerable feeling, floating in ice water and facing off against a set of tusks and a beast that weighs more than my car. It puts me in my place - flailing around in an awkward dry suit and with the safety line wrapped around your neck, you are completely at their mercy... 

Walruses swimming together underwater off the Tiholmane Islands

Each blubbery sea beast can weigh up to one and a half tons - the same as a small truck - and is armed with foot-long tusks. Walruses use their huge tusks for fighting other walruses, defence against whales and sharks and hauling their fat-laden bodies on and off their ice platforms. 

Walruses swimming together underwater off the Tiholmane Islands

Photographer Paul Souders comes face to face with walruses in Norway

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