SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Wayward Young Walrus Recovered
Alaska SeaLife Center staff care for 400+-pound yearling


September 25, 2007

Seward, Alaska - An apparently orphaned walrus that had eluded several capture attempts was finally recovered and transported to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward last Thursday.

The young male walrus, which has been named "Chukchi," was flown to Kotzebue and Anchorage on chartered cargo planes, and is now exploring his surroundings in the Alaska SeaLife Center's rehabilitation facility. Visitors to the center can observe Chukchi on a monitor near the touch pool, via a video camera linked to its quarantined area.

The walrus first appeared in late August near the Red Dog Mine port facility south of Kivalina, on the shore of the Chukchi Sea. The animal seemed exhausted and lethargic, hauling out on the backs of zinc ships as they were loaded. There was no sign of a mother walrus in the area, so workers called the Alaska SeaLife Center's stranding response staff for assistance.

jpg walrus

400+-pound yearling male walrus, named "Chukchi"
Photograph courtesy Alaska SeaLife Center

"U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists tell us that harvested animals of this age normally have only their mother's milk for stomach contents," says Tim Lebling, stranding coordinator at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Lebling observed the walrus's size and budding tusks to determine that it was one of last year's calves.

Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) give birth to their calves on pack ice in April or May. Their genus name means "tooth walker," and the young depend on their mothers for up to two years. Scientists are monitoring walrus populations because walruses depend on seasonal availability of pack ice, which has become less consistent with climate change.

When Alaska SeaLife Center staff first tried to approach the walrus in early September, it would jump into the water and swim away, only to haul out again when they retreated. "We then realized that the situation called for capture rather rescue," says Lebling, "and if you have to capture an animal, it may not need to be rescued at that time." Waiting and observing are often critically important when dealing with stranded animals. Even after staff determined the walrus had been orphaned, several attempts to capture it were thwarted by factors like stormy weather and the animal's mobility.

NANA Management, the Native corporation that owns the land where the port facility and mine are located, was very supportive of the recovery efforts. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) contacted several Alaska Native groups in the area to see if they wanted to harvest the walrus, but they declined so it could be recovered and transported to the SeaLife Center for care.

Lebling also praised the efforts of workers from USFWS, the Red Dog Mine and Foss Marine, which operates tugs and barges where the walrus first appeared. Red Dog Mine made significant contributions to the recovery by providing animal transport, fuel, lodging, fuel and vessel use.

The SeaLife Center operates a 24-hour hotline for the public to report stranded marine mammals or birds, and encourages people who think they may have found a stranded or sick marine animal to call first at 1-888-774-SEAL and avoid touching or approaching the animal.

The Alaska SeaLife Center is a non-profit marine science facility dedicated to understanding and maintaining the integrity of the marine ecosystem of Alaska through research, rehabilitation and public education.


On the Web:

US Fish and Wildlife Service's website with advice for dealing with sick or injured walrus:

Information on Pacific walruses, Alaska Department Fish and Game's Wildlife Notebook Series website at

To support the Alaska SeaLife Center's Rescue and Rehabilitation efforts, visit and look for the "contribute" button at the bottom of each page.


Source of News & Photograph:

Alaska SeaLife Center


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska