A wayward walrus calf, just one month old, was rescued from the North Slope and flown to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where the staff is now providing “round-the-clock cuddling” to the 200-pound pinniped.
Dr. Carrie Goertz, director of animal health at the SeaLife Center, said the walrus has learned to drink from a bottle and is taking to his new caregivers.
“He follows people around and as soon as they sit down, he’ll be laying up against them,” she said.
The center says workers on the North Slope spotted the baby walrus on tundra, about four miles inland from the Beaufort Sea.
Pacific walrus are marine mammals and don’t normally venture so far from the coast.
“Observers reported a notable ‘walrus trail’ on the tundra close to a road where he was discovered, although it is unknown how he arrived inland,” a press release from the SeaLife Center says. “Walrus calves depend on maternal care for their first two years of life, and with no adults in the vicinity, it was apparent that the wayward calf would not survive long without intervention.”
Anthony Fischbach, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Walrus Research Program, said he’s never witnessed a walrus calf moving far from the surf zone, and traveling such a distance would be “extraordinary.”
But “if a calf is separated from its mother, it may do something extraordinary to find her,” he said by email.
Several organizations rallied to help the animal, including ConocoPhillips and Alaska Clean Seas. With approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the calf was moved to a warehouse overnight. ConocoPhillips flew the calf to Seward Tuesday in a company plane.
Veterinarians at the SeaLife Center found the young male walrus was suffering from dehydration, malnutrition and a cloudy eye. The SeaLife Center is now providing 24-hour care.
“Walruses are highly tactile and social animals, receiving near-constant care from their mothers during the first two years of life,” the SeaLife Center said in a written statement. “To emulate this maternal closeness, round-the-clock ‘cuddling’ is being provided to ensure the calf remains calm and develops in a healthy manner. Calves tend to habituate quickly to human care, and staff report that he is already eating formula from a bottle.”
The rescued calf is only the 10th walrus ever admitted to the SeaLife Center in its 25-year history.