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
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.
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 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 http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/marine/walrus.php
To support the Alaska SeaLife Center's Rescue and Rehabilitation
efforts, visit www.alaskasealife.org and look for the "contribute"
button at the bottom of each page.
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