Alaska says bye-bye to big lovable babies
Alaska SeaLife Center
Mitak and Pakak snuggle while in the care of Alaska SeaLife Center. The walruses are off to new homes this week.
After an intense couple of months of hands-on bonding experience with the two big babies, the Alaska SeaLife Center staff and volunteers said a fond farewell to the two walrus calves Wednesday afternoon, but also breathed a collective sigh of relief. With their departure, the young walruses were on their way to their permanent homes via FedEx air flights.
Pakak, the largest calf, who arrived first, and now weighs 345 pounds, was selected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to go to the Indianapolis Zoo (www.indyzoo.com). The smaller one, Mitak, who arrived soon after, and weighed some 234 pounds before leaving, will go to the New York Aquarium (www.nyaquarium.com). A facility run by the Wildlife Conservation Society which also runs the Bronx Zoo and Central Park Zoo, said ASLC President and CEO Tara Riemer Jones. Both places have other walruses that they will eventually spend time with following their mandatory quarantine period. Meanwhile, people will continue to be their main companions, said Jones. One caretaker for each facility has spent the past three weeks at ASLC, getting to know the walruses, so Jones is certain they will be in good hands. Each institute also has a female walrus that may help raise the huge youngsters. In the wild walrus young generally spend two years in their mothers’ care.
The two walrus were found stranded near Barrow in July. They were rescued one week apart, arriving in Seward on July 22 and 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.
Caring for the two walrus calves this summer has been a huge undertaking for the center’s marine mammal rescue program, which also looked after a stranded newborn Beluga whale, which passed away earlier in the summer, and 11 harbor seal pups.
“It’s been a challenge on the staffing side, but it’s also been a way of engaging some new volunteers, and engaging some of our staff in ways that they haven’t been engaged,” said Jones. The walrus provided training for the staff, interns and volunteers, who got the rare opportunity to interact with these amazingly friendly and intelligent creatures. There are only 17 other captive walrus in the United States, residing at seven facilities, so the experience is generally hard to come by. The last time ASLC cared for walrus was five years ago.
Both the beluga and walrus calves brought national media attention to the SeaLife Center and its mission. The opening of the new I.Sea U. center, where visitors could view the walruses and their caretakers behind one-way glass windows, attracted an increased number of visitors during the latter part of the summer, said Jones.