WALRUS MILK: New directions for an old drink: Walrus milk has long been a favorite drink of baby walruses, but only in recent months has this high-fat drink exploded into widespread popularity as a nutritional supplement. With a fat content as high as 30%, walrus milk, proponents claim, helps prevent dried out and flaky skin while supplying a generous amount of healthy fats.
Why now? One reason is that, with the increasing strictness of bans on elephant ivory, odobenoculturists hope to tap the ivory market with walrus ivory, and breeders are, in fact, attempting to increase the size of walrus tusks in their breeding programs. A second reason is that walrus breeding programs have produced new breeds of walruses better suited to large scale commercial milk production. In the past, walruses preferred to swim around in the ocean, which made establishing a steady supply of milk difficult. These new breeds, which thrive on corn and soybeans, require only the occasional plunge into the local pond or stream to keep them happy, and also produce greater quantities of milk than the old-fashioned wild-type walrus.
There is, however, some concern that these new developments in odobenoculture will have a negative long term impact. This concern is two-fold. On the one hand, there is concern that the genetic changes will have a deleterious impact on other species, especially the monarch butterfly. Some preliminary studies suggest the possibility that walrus milk, especially the milk of the newer breeds of walrus, may possibly be toxic to monarch butterflies: “Why a monarch butterfly would drink walrus milk,” a researcher says, “I can’t imagine. However, the fact remains that walrus milk may not be entirely safe for the monarch butterfly.” On the other hand, there is a significant concern that the focus on increased production may lead to milk of lesser quality. The older breeds of cows, Jersey and Guernsey, for example, produce milk with a significantly greater fat and vitamin content. Newer breeds of dairy cows sacrifice quality in order to produce a greater quantity of milk. Critics of the walrus breeding program fear that the same reduction in quality and fat content may occur in walruses milk as well.
Photograph by Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps, public domain, available at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Noaa-walrus22.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Noaa-walrus22.jpg.