Walrus calf is first I.Sea.U patient
Alaska SeaLife Center
I.Sea.U, critcal care unit at Alaska SeaLife Center is designed for intensive care.
The critical care unit, I.Sea.U, at Alaska SeaLife Center is now open with an orphaned male walrus calf from Barrow as the first patient.
ASLC officially opened the I.Sea.U on June 8 during World Oceans Day festivities as a nursery for stranded sea otters. Since no live sea otters have been admitted to the stranding program this summer, the I.Sea.U remained unoccupied. “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 I.Sea.U is able to maintain a stricter quarantine than the existing stranding facilities at the ASLC, because staff or visiting care providers can adhere to tighter shower and clothing-change protocols when entering and exiting the unit. The new unit will also have dedicated staff support and is physically separated from the other established stranding.
A heightened concern for strict quarantine followed the designation of an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in 2011 after some North Slope pinnipeds appeared weak and lethargic with hair loss and ulcerated skin lesions. To date, most of the affected animals have been ring seals, but other ice seals and walrus have also been found with consistent symptoms. The cause of the UME is still unknown.
The first patient arrived at the center on July 22, and the 275-pound calf is stable, suckling readily from a bottle and interacting well with his caregivers.
In addition to the walrus calf being cared for in the I.Sea.U, ASLC stranding staff care for a second walrus calf behind-the scenes. The second calf, currently in critical condition, was stranded in Barrow a week later than the first and was admitted to the center on July 30. A third walrus calf, also admitted on July 30, died approximately 24 hours later of multiple complications relating to his initial stranding, including severe malnutrition, dehydration and systemic illness.
Alaska SeaLife Center
Rescued walrus plays in an I.Sea.U pool.
Visitors to the center can overlook the activities in the I.Sea.U through one-way windows. The unit was made possible through the generous donations from Barbara Weinig, MK LeLash Foundation, ConocoPhillips, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and Minnesota Zoo.
The Alaska SeaLife Center is the only permanent marine rehabilitation center in Alaska responding to stranded wildlife such as sea otters, harbor seals, and walrus. The stranding program responds to walrus with the authorization of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 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. Once a stranded marine mammal is admitted to the ASLC, it receives care from the experienced and dedicated veterinary and animal care staff.