SeaLife Center takes in stranded walrus calf


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The Alaska SeaLife Center is rehabilitating a male Pacific walrus calf that stranded near Barrow this past Saturday, July 21.

The calf, estimated to be four to six weeks old, was found by local fisherman who spotted the calf in North Salt Lagoon. On July 17, a large group of walrus were sighted passing Barrow on floating ice and the calf is presumed to have been separated from this group.

After a period of observation and approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, staff of the North Slope Borough’s Department of Wildlife Management facilitated the rescue. Two Center staff traveled to Barrow early Sunday, July 22, to evaluate the animal, already under the watchful eye of a local veterinarian. Air transportation from Barrow to Anchorage for the 200-pound animal was provided by Northern Air Cargo. In Anchorage, NAC also assisted in transferring the walrus to a specially-equipped truck for the 125 mile trip to Seward.

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. 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 Lebing. “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.

The Pacific walrus is a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection, mainly due to the threat that loss of sea ice could have on walrus population numbers. Pacific walrus use floating sea ice to give birth, nurse calves, avoid predators, and as a platform for feeding.

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 USFWS. The Center responded to four stranded walrus calves between 2003 and 2007, but this is the first walrus to be admitted in the last five years. Once a stranded marine mammal is admitted to the ASLC, it receives care from experienced and dedicated veterinary and animal care staff.

“We have no federal or state funding to care for stranded walrus calves, and we rely on donations to keep this program going. We especially thank Shell Exploration and Production, ConocoPhillips Alaska and BP Alaska for their generous contributions to the Center in support of wildlife rescue,” said Tara Reimer Jones, president and CEO.

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 mammal to avoid touching or approaching the animal; instead, these individuals should call 1-888-774-SEAL (7325)

The Alaska SeaLife Center is a non-profit research institution and visitor attraction which generates and shares scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems. The Alaska SeaLife Center is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.alaskasealife.org.


 

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