BASKING in the sun, Wally the walrus bellows and flashes his long white tusks and spiky whiskers.
The sight of the blubbering 600lb beast bobbing up and down in the ocean could be straight from a David Attenborough documentary.
But then I hear gulls squawking above and I snap back to reality — because Wally is not in his natural home of the Arctic.
He is, in fact, the new celebrity of Tenby, in Pembrokeshire.
It is a surreal sight that locals in the Southwest Wales resort could never have imagined they would see.
But Wally’s surprise appearance 47 days ago has brought excitement and interest to the area after a year of lockdown misery.
So much so that people from all over the country are travelling to catch a glimpse of the magnificent marine mammal.
And locals tell me there are lots of tall stories circulating as to how Wally came to be in Tenby.
John Mather, who runs The Nook Shop, is selling Wally cushions and merchandise and says: “Rumour has it he fell asleep on an iceberg in Greenland and it floated over.
“Then when he reached Ireland the iceberg melted as it’s warmer and he woke up. After that he swam the rest of the way to Tenby.”
John, 48, adds: “He’s been a complete godsend. Everyone in Tenby who runs independent businesses has been suffering in the pandemic and none of us could believe our luck when Wally turned up.
“My Wally merchandise is flying off the shelves. What’s more, he’s cheered everyone up. The kids love him and he’s a real poser and show-off. I just hope he stays safe and well.”
Despite the recent storms and the chill Atlantic air, massive crowds gather daily on the hilly coastline a stone’s throw from the lifeboat station in Castle Hill, where Wally likes to chill out, all hoping to see him.
Type “Wally the walrus” into social media and thousands of pictures will come up on Instagram and Facebook.
But while Wally has captured the nation’s hearts and given Tenby’s independent businesses a much-needed tourist boost, locals are growing concerned for his safety and welfare.
The worry is that people’s desperation for a selfie with Wally is putting their lives — and his — at risk.
Welsh Marine Life Rescue volunteer Tracey Pritchard says: “The other day five drunk girls stripped off and said they were going to go crabbing.
“But we knew they were trying to get to Wally. Luckily we stopped them before they got into trouble.
“But people are doing crazy and irresponsible things to get a snap with Wally.
“Another woman, a mum of two, told her young sons to paddle-board over to him.
'MAGNIFICENT SEA CREATURE'
"I don’t think people realise quite how dangerous the sea can be and Wally wouldn’t be sweet and cuddly towards them if he felt threatened.”
Tracey, 43, adds: “This massive sea creature is magnificent but it is recommended people don’t go too close, not only for their own safety but to avoid distressing him.”
As walruses are an endangered species, it is a criminal offence to go within 50 metres of Wally, and the volunteers are urging people to call the police and report anyone who is harassing him.
Walruses are herd animals and usually congregate in large groups — in their natural habitat they are rarely alone.
Linda Compton, who is another volunteer from Welsh Marine Life Rescue, says: “There is concern he could be lonely as he’s away from his herd.
"But males are a little bit more independent and we are doing our best to protect him.
“I have come here every day since he arrived, sometimes for up to 12 to 14 hours a day.
“We have been monitoring him constantly to make sure he’s in good health. Fortunately, he has been putting on weight and his skin is getting in better condition.
"When he first arrived, he was exhausted and covered in sores, but they’re slowly going.”
Linda, 59, adds: “While most people are respectful to Wally, there have been some idiots who have harassed him and us but we will do everything in our power to protect him. We’ve formed a close bond with him.”
Her daughter Amy has snapped Wally with a starfish on his nose and she has impressively detailed pictures of him painted on her nails.
She has also designed £5 Wally face masks and has sold them as far away as Canada and America, with more than 20 per cent of her profits going to the charity.
- Walruses weigh a tonne and can live up to 40 years
- They can dive to 90m and swim at 22mph
- Total world population is about 250,000
- They spend two-thirds of their lives in water but come ashore to rest and have babies
- Walrus comes from Old Norse word hrossvalr meaning “horse-whale”
- They inspired Lewis Carroll’s poem The Walrus And The Carpenter and The Beatles’ song I Am The Walrus
Amy, 22, says: “The first time I saw Wally, I couldn’t believe it that this incredible creature had somehow turned up in Tenby, far away from his natural habitat.
“But his arrival was tinged with sadness because this is obviously not where he should be and we dearly want him to survive and find his way home.
"We are doing everything we can to help him and we hope there is a happy outcome for Wally. He has not only captured our hearts but the hearts of the world.”
Experts at Welsh Marine Life Rescue, which is a voluntary charity, believe Wally is around three years old and will grow to a full ton when he reaches adulthood.
Walruses can live up to 40 years — so he is little more than an infant now.
Because he has a habit of sitting on the lifeboat station slipway, Wally is causing problems for the crew when they need to launch the boat.
Tracey says: “The other day there was an emergency and Wally delayed the launch by sunbathing on the slipway.
“The rescuers tried everything to move him but it’s not easy moving a 600lb beast. There’s an old lifeboat ramp next door but the cheeky chappy prefers the new one.”
The crew have tried blowing horns and banging metal poles to try to persuade Wally to move, and crew member Ben James says: “He doesn’t take any notice of the sound of our launch siren, so making this sort of noise is the best way to shift him.
“But once the boat had gone out, he’s back in place, and everyone watching on Castle Hill gave him a round of applause.
“Wally’s such an amazing creature and he’s a great attraction — we think he’s like our own lifeboat station mascot.
“He seems to be really playful and friendly and is curious about people.”
Wallymania has swept through the whole of Tenby and as I walk around the resort’s cobbled streets, all I hear is excited chatter centred around their world-famous arrival.
A voice at my side says: “I walk past every morning before work and speak to him.
“He talks back in his own language and somehow we seem to understand each other. He’s a right tart — he’s always flirting with everyone.”
The local Harbour Brewery has created a special beer dedicated to Wally, called Tamar’s Tusk.
Head brewer Rob Luly, 27, says: “The name is a hybrid of the lifeboat stationed at the slip he loves to lounge on, and his fantastic tusks.
“We are really excited to launch the beer — he’s brought a lot of tourism to the area and we owe him a pint. Cheers, Wally.”
With that, I raise a glass to wonderful Wally and watch him slip off the lifeboat ramp and swim out to sea.
Incredibly for such a large lump, he can dive nearly 90 metres and reach speeds of 22mph underwater.
As he bobs along in the distance, I’m sure he raises his flipper and waves at me, but then I blink and he’s gone.
I wait a few minutes and he doesn’t come back up. For now, the show is over. Wally has disappeared deep into the ocean.
But I have a feeling that like his fan club, tomorrow he’ll be back.
- To donate to the Welsh Marine Life Rescue, visit facebook.com/WelshMarineLifeRescue/
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