Orphaned Walrus Calves are Home at Last

Mitik 1 Sybille Castro

The dramatic journey of two male Pacific Walrus calves, found stranded this summer near Barrow, Alaska, made a huge leap forward this week when they arrived at their new permanent homes – the  Indianapolis Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium. 

The touching stories of Mitik and Pakak, each just a few months old, began when they were found alone and suffering from dehydration on separate occasions in late July.  The tale of their rescue and rehabilitation at the Alaska SeaLife Center was first chronicled by ZooBorns on July 27 and their progress updated on August 10.  Readers around the world were captivated by the way the calves immediately bonded with their caregivers through touching and snuggling. 

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MitikPakak (2) Shauna Gallagher

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Walrus are very tactile and social animals, and the dedicated staff and caretakers at the SeaLife Center provided the social interaction that the calves needed. Walrus calves almost immediately adjust to human care, so they are not candidates for release back into the wild. 

Because the SeaLife Center is it not large enough to permanently house all the wildlife it rescues, Pakak moved last week to the Indianapolis Zoo and Mitik traveled to the New York Aquarium.  The staffs at each institution are understandably thrilled with their new arrivals, but fans will have to wait awhile to see the new calves:  both will undergo a routine quarantine period, with numerous health checks, before being introduced to the adult Walruses living at each zoo.  It may be several months before the calves are seen by the public.

The 24-hour care the calves received at the Alaska SeaLife Center continues in their new homes, fulfilling their nutritional and social needs until they are introduced to their new companions.  In Indianapolis, Patak will join longtime zoo resident Aurora; Mitik will share the New York Aquarium’s exhibit with Kulu, age 17, and Nuka, age 30.

Both calves were in poor health at the timke of their rescue, but have steadily improved during their rehabilitation period.  The calves currently weigh about 240 pounds, and as adults they could weigh more than 1,500 pounds. 

Walruses face environmental threats in their Arctic habitat. Because of the lack of suitable ice, more and more Walruses are congregating on land. Overcrowding in these areas may play a role in spreading disease among populations.

Photo Credits (top to bottom):  Sybille Castro; Alaska SeaLife Center; Shauna Gallagher, Indianapolis Zoo; Indianapolis Zoo

Checking-in on Orphan Baby Walrus in I.Sea.U

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Two weeks ago we brought you the touching story of an orphaned Pacific Walrus calf rescued, cared for and comforted at Alaska SeaLife Center. Today we check back-in on the 275 lb. toddler and see he is making good progress and enjoying playtime in his pool. This calf also marks the first patient in Alaska SeaLife Center's newest animal care area,  the I.Sea.U critical care unit.

On June 8, the I.Sea.U was officially opened during World Oceans Day festivities as a nursery for stranded Sea Otters. Since no live Sea Otters were admitted to the stranding program this summer, the I.Sea.U remained unoccupied until now. “We prepared first for our most common species requiring intensive care, the Northern Sea Otter. Readying the space to house walrus had been planned for Phase 2 this coming winter, but we’ve gotten there more quickly with this pressing need,” said Brett Long, the Center’s husbandry director. The new unit will also have dedicated staff support and is physically separated from the other established stranding areas of the building.

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Great video of the Pacific Walrus calf rocking out in his pool

The unit was made possible through the generous donations from Barbara Weinig, the MK LeLash Foundation, ConocoPhillips, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, and the Minnesota Zoo. The Alaska SeaLife Center is the only permanent marine rehabilitation center in Alaska responding to stranded marine mammals. The Center responded to four stranded walrus calves between 2003 and 2007, but this year’s calves are the first walrus admitted in the last five years.

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Once a stranded marine mammal is admitted to the ASLC, it receives care from an experienced and dedicated veterinary and animal care staff. The Alaska SeaLife Center operates a 24-hour hotline for the public to report stranded marine mammals or birds, and encourages people who have found a stranded or sick marine animal to avoid touching or approaching the animal; instead, those individuals should call 1-888-774- SEAL (7325).

Orphan Walrus Comforted at Alaska SeaLife Center

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This past Saturday, local fisherman spotted an orphan Pacific Walrus calf on floating ice near Barrow, Alaska. After a period of observation from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a rescue was approved and Alaska SeaLife Center staff and a local veterinarian prepared the 200lb. baby for airlift to Anchorage and transport by modified truck to ASLC in Seward. 

The calf is suckling readily from a bottle, feeding every three hours around the clock, and consuming nearly 1,400 calories at each feed. He is actively seeking attention from care-givers, and vocalizing when left alone. “Walrus are incredibly tactile, social animals,” said Stranding Coordinator Tim Lebling.  “Walrus calves typically spend about two years with their mothers, so we have to step in to provide that substitute care and companionship.”  Walrus calves almost immediately habituate to human care and therefore are not candidates for release following rehabilitation.


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The video below is one of the most touching ZooBorns has had the privilige to share

The calf appears to be in good condition; however, Center veterinarians have identified and are addressing some health concerns while performing additional diagnostic testing to better understand his condition. If you would like to contribute to this calf's care, you can do so here

More photos and information below the fold

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