|Walrus Pup wondering what happened to the seals next to him|
Still in disbelief, I got dressed and hopped in the truck. We met Craig and the wildlife crew down at the boat launch where a boatful of local hunters were returning from a long night of seal hunting. Although, this time they returned with much more than a few seals. In their boat was a 170 pound walrus pup. They apparently had been out hunting by the ice and spotted the pup. There were no other walruses nearby and the lonely little guy approached the boat. If a walrus pup approaches a boat willingly, it is a sure sign that it has been separated from its mom for more than a couple days. They hunters pulled the pup into the boat and called wildlife to see what they should do. They were instructed to bring the pup back to shore so that we could once again care for it until it could be transported to the sea life center. Normally, stranded walrus pups off shore should be left alone to let nature take its course. However, this situation was unusual since the walrus approached the boat looking for help.
By the time we got to the boat, the hunter's 14 year old daughter, Clara, had snuggled up right next to the little guy and had named him "Mitik."After some debate on the best method of transferring the walrus to the back of the animal control vehicle, the men settled on just picking it up by the flippers, with one man to each flipper/tail. This worked really well. The walrus seemed to be content and happy in Clara's arms, so we had her climb into the back of the vehicle with the pup to keep him calm while we drove to the clinic.
|Mitik loved the pillows|
Once at the clinic, we discussed the game plan. Tim, veterinary technician from the Sealife Center, would be flying up on the evening flight with walrus care supplies and would take the walrus back with him the following morning. In the mean time, we would take on "walrus cuddling" shifts to keep the walrus calm. Walruses are very tactile creatures and stay with their moms for 2 years, so it was important to try and provide that contact stimulus for him. Rose and I took the walrus back to our house and Rose took the first shift (1-3pm). While cuddling next to the walrus with blankets and pillows, Rose noted some little bugs on the pillows and on the walrus. Ticks! We both freaked out and Rose quickly came in to shower and wash her clothes. Around 3pm, Dr. Coburn and the wildlife veterinarian, showed up and explained to us that the "ticks" we had seen were really "sea lice." As I've learned in my parasitiology class, lice are host specific. Thus, the walrus cuddling team had nothing to worry about. Dr. Coburn soon took over her cuddling shift (3-5pm). She snuggled right up next to him and even fell asleep for a couple minutes, but right as she was really resting, visitors started arriving. Barrow is a small town, and word gets around quickly. Soon enough people were showing up to get a look at the little fella. I spent most of Dr. Coburn's shift playing crowd control. I also was given a temperature gun, to monitor the walruses body temperature every 30 minutes.
|Rose meeting the second walrus pup|
A little after 5pm, it was my turn to snuggle with the walrus. I climbed in and made myself comfy next to little Mitik. Around 6pm, Rose drove the vehicle over to the vet clinic and I remained in the back of the SUV next to Mitik. The wildlife people met up with us at the clinic and brought news that another baby walrus was reported to be stranded on the shore by the gravel pits just south of Barrow. They quickly headed out to the gravel pits to check it out. Sure enough, they returned with another male walrus pup. It was a little smaller than Mitik, but was probably only a week or 2 younger. We estimated that Mitik was probably 5-7 weeks and the new guy was about 4-5 weeks. Rose was soon asked to become the cuddler for the new baby walrus and I remained with Mitik for the rest of the evening. It is important with wildlife rescues to remain consistent. The same people should be handling the creatures so that they don't get overly stressed with each new person.
|Feeding electrolyte solution through the E-tube|
Around 8pm, Tim from the Sealife Center arrived and was shocked to find not just one, but 2 walrus pups in need of attention. He quickly warmed up a bottle of electrolyte solution and unsuccessfully attempted to bottle feed Mitik. He also suggested that we run some bloodwork on the walrus and walked Dr. Coburn and I through the procedure to draw blood from a walrus. The bloodwork showed that he was somewhat dehydrated. Since he wouldn't take the bottle, Tim suggested that we use an esophageal feeding tube to give him his electrolytes. Dr. Coburn and Tim were able to get the tube in place, but Mitik kept spitting up everything that went down. In fact, during one attempt he spit it up all over one of the wildlife guy's faces!!!! I just about died laughing!
|Giving SQ fluids to Mitik|
Since both the bottle and the E-tubes failed, we decided to proceed with subcutaneous fluids (NaCl & glucose). I actually got to place the needle for the fluids and sit with him while the fluids were administered! The fluids flowed very slowly and a little after midnight, the fluids were stopped and the walrus was tucked in for the night. Tim stayed with the two walruses overnight at the clinic while the rest of us went home for some sleep.
The wildlife crew was already at the clinic when Rose and I arrived there this morning. Apparently the walruses would not be able to fly out on Alaska Airline's morning flight because the flight was completely booked. Instead, the Coast Guard had been contacting and offered to fly a C130 all the way from Kodiak to Barrow to transport the two walrus pups down to Anchorage! In the meantime, I was asked to cuddle up next to Mitik to keep him calm. I stayed with him as we drove to the airport later that morning. When we got there, I helped load him into an extra large dog kennel and I stayed by his side as we drove over to meet the plane. The Coast Guard film crew met us with cameras, notepads and video cameras rolling.The footage will air on the TV show "Coast Guard Alaska" sometime this fall. Not long afterwards, BBC showed up with their media equipment as well. The Coasties loved the baby walruses and almost everyone tried to get a picture with them. After the media stuff had been dealt with, we said our goodbyes and the walruses were loaded into the aircraft and settled in for their flight home. Those little guys are probably just now arriving at their new home in the Alaska SeaLife Center.
|Dr. Coburn & I accompanying the walrus pups to their private aircraft|