Rescued walrus calf dies at Alaska aquarium

ANCHORAGE (AP) — A walrus calf rescued last month from Alaska's northern shores died 24 hours after it was taken to the Alaska Sealife Center, officials at the Seward aquarium confirmed Thursday.

Center President Tara Riemer Jones said the smallest of three walruses was brought to the center "very sick" and died of multiple complications that included severe malnutrition, dehydration and systemic illness.

A second calf remains in critical condition, Jones said, but a third has recovered enough to be moved to a nursery that allows public viewing.

The three male walrus calves were believed to be part of a group spotted July 17 on ice floating past Barrow, the nation's northernmost city.

Days later, the largest of the three was found along a Barrow lagoon. It weighed 258 pounds and arrived at the Seward center July 22.

The other two were found orphaned about a week later on an ocean beach near the community and were delivered to the center July 30.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods said it had not been determined why the calves were orphaned. They could have been separated from their mothers in a storm, though no major weather incidents were noted at the time, he said. The mothers also could have been killed by predators, he said.

None of the calves showed hair loss, skin lesions or other symptoms that appeared on walrus and seals last year and led wildlife authorities to declare an "unusual mortality event." Most of the symptoms showed up on ringed seals.

It was unusual, Woods said, to find three walrus orphans.

The Coast Guard is increasing its presence along the Arctic coast as global warming increases summer ice melt. It flew the walruses to Anchorage, and they were transported another 125 miles south to Seward.

The healthiest walrus calf now weighs 275 pounds and is suckling steadily from a bottle, according to an announcement from the center.

The walrus is in a nursery opened June 8 and designed for stranded sea otters. The center has received no stranded sea otters since the nursery opened.

"We prepared first for our most common species requiring intensive care, the northern sea otter," said Brett Long, the center's husbandry director. "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."

The new unit is separated from the other established stranding areas of the building. Visitors can see the walrus through one-way windows.

The center says it responded to four stranded walrus calves between 2003 and 2007, but the three this year are the first in five years.

08/10/2012 - 6:12am