Featured Image Credit: Alaska SeaLife Center
By Eva Gruber
An adorable two-week old baby walrus made its way onto the AU Grabber, a gold mining dredge off the coast of Nome in the Bering Sea. No one in the boat crew saw the baby sneaking on board, but they later discovered the stow away. They suspect that the baby was washed on board a wave that the barge created while it was digging for gold on the sea bottom.
Hank Schimschat, one of the marine gold miners, said that the baby walrus was just like a little puppy dog, following them around the boat. He also mentioned that while the baby was absolutely adorable, they tried not to pet him or feed him too much so that he wouldn’t lose his wariness of humans. After completing their dig, the crew returned to Nome leaving the baby on board the dredge, hoping that he would make his way back into the water and back to his mother.
However when they woke up the following morning on Friday and went to work on the dredge, they saw that the baby was still there. That was when they decided to call the authorities for some professional help.
The Alaska SeaLife Center organized a flight (with the necessary approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service) for the walrus calf with Northern Air Cargo to the Seward-based organization’s facility.
While the flight was being organized, the baby was taken to Nome, where Schimschat met University of Alaska-Fairbanks marine ecology professor Gay Sheffield at the wharf. The professor carried the 120-pound calf in a nylon fish tote, and remarked that the calf appeared to be unwell – possibly emaciated, dehydrated, and with skin sores. She guessed that the baby was around two weeks old, and confirmed that it’s a male.
While it is unusual for a calf to be separated from its mother, sometimes predators such as killer whales – known to be in the area – can cause enough stress for the mother to abandon its calf. Since the animal was taken from its natural habitat as a calf, there is no way for it to be returned to the wild, even once it has regained its health and grown into an adult. This is because since walruses are very social animals that live in herds, it would not be accepted into walrus society upon its release. This would condemn it to death.
Typically, baby walruses stay with their mother for two years in the wild. This baby will also learn to bond with humans as it is taken care of at the SeaLife Center.
Tara Riemer, the CEO and President of the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, reported that the calf is now doing well, having been fed and rehydrated under professional care of marine mammal veterinarians. The calf now resides in a 15-by-20 foot tank at the Center while he returns to health. He is under direct care at all times, with anywhere between two and four people with him at any one time.
As the SeaLife Center does not have the proper facilities to provide long-term care for the animal, they are beginning to search for institutions that he can be transferred to. There are not many facilities that can provide the specialized care and conditions that a walrus needs – including other walruses.
The walrus – who has yet to be named – is currently in a public viewing area at the Alaska SeaLife Center.