Monday, July 30, 2012

Baby Walrus Rescue, 2 & 3!!!

Yesterday, as sipped on my morning cup of coffee, my roommate, Rose walked into the living room saying "Craig just called, there's another walrus pup." Of course, I thought she had to be joking. "You're kidding," I replied. "No, I'm serious. Get dressed," was her response. I still couldn't believe it. There was no way there could be another walrus pup. We just rescued one last weekend and before that, there hadn't been any walrus pup rescues since 2007. 
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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Midnight Marathon, Point Barrow, Icebergs

5K Participation Medal 
Top of the World Midnight Marathon/5K

Last weekend was overwhelmingly exciting. It began with a 5K on Friday night, then turned into a weekend of wildlife rescue as we helped capture and treat a stranded baby walrus, but you've already read about that....

So lets get back to Friday night when I participated in the first ever "Top of the World Midnight Marathon." There were 3 different races for this event, a marathon (26.2 miles), a half marathon (13.1 miles), and a 5K (3.1 miles). While it would have been really fun to say I ran a marathon or even a half-marathon, I really don't like running that much, so I decided to run the 5K. Originally, the 5K was supposed to start at midnight, and the marthon & half marathoners were supposed to be finishing up their race a little after midnight so that all runners would be on the course right at midnight. This is possible up here since there are still 24 hours of daylight. Unfortunately, they decided to change the time of the 5K to begin at 11pm. I was  definitely disappointed because I was looking forward to running part of the race at midnight, but I guess I didn't really have a choice. It was pretty chilly that evening, and foggy too. The 5K trail was basically a loop around town on the streets (you can check out the race maps at the website below). They didn't have the streets blocked off at all, so there was an occasional 4 wheeler or vehicle that would drive by and kick up a ton of dirt into the air. I ended up finishing with a time of 30 minutes and 3 seconds. Not a bad time for someone who doesn't even like running that much!

Top of the World, Midnight Marathon Website:

Point Barrow

Saturday and Sunday were spent rescuing the baby walrus (read my previous blog for that). On Sunday after the walrus boarded his flight to Anchorage, everyone involved in the walrus rescue went out for a celebratory lunch at Brower's. It was a gorgeous day, so of course my roommate and I took the opportunity to get yet another picture in front of the famous whalebone arches.

While at dinner, I mentioned that I had not yet gone out to "the Point," aka "Point Barrow" or "Nuvuk". The point, is the northernmost point of all the territory of the USA. It is 1291 miles from the north pole and marks the limit between to of the Arctic Seas, the Chuckchi and the Beaufort. Since it is 9 miles north of Barrow and access to the point requires 4 wheel drive, I had not yet had the opportunity to visit the point. The wildlife people insisted that I join their interns the following day to visit the point and check the polar bear snares.

A sign and some Whale Bones close to the Ilisagvik College Campus
On Monday, I took them up on their offer. I took a taxi out to the Ilisagvik College campus, a couple miles north of Barrow and met them in the wildlife research wing of the college. They explained that there is a large pile of whale carcasses located at the point. This pile is used to basically keep polar bears at the point and away from town. After whaling hunts, the unwanted parts of the whales are often taken to the point to be discarded. A barbed wire fence is set up around the entire carcass pile about 3 feet off the ground. This wire pulls pieces of hair from the polar bears as they climb over it to reach the pile of rotting whale meat. The researches then do DNA testing on the hair samples to study trends of which polar bears are visiting the point, if they return each years, etc.

After learning all this, the two interns and I used each took a North Slope Borough 4 wheeler and a gun  and headed to the point to check the snares. We drove up the road a couple miles, then went onto the sandy trail to the point. We had to stop a good distance from the point and use binoculars to make sure no polar bears were nearby. I haven't seen a polar bear yet, so I was hoping one would be there, but I had no such luck. The coast was clear and we continued up the path until we reached the carcass pile. The pile was huge, consisted of whale/caribou/seal pieces and smelled wretched. There were lots of polar bear hair samples on the snares and the interns proceeded with collecting the samples and placing them in little containers to bring back to the lab. There must have been plenty of polar bears visiting the point during that week.
Carcass Pile & Polar Bear Hair Snare at Point Barrow
I'm not exactly sure what this is, but it is at the Point
Birthday & Icebergs

Monday also happened to be my roommates birthday. A group of us went out to Brower's Cafe for dinner to celebrate. It was a calm and relatively warm evening, so after dinner we decided to go to the beach and hop on some icebergs. Luckily, the icebergs were really close to shore and we were able to stay dry in our rain boots as we waded out to one of them.

Dinner at Browers

Iceberg Hopping :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Baby Walrus Rescue

 Yesterday was a really boring day....until about 2pm when a call came through from dispatch through the Animal Control radio. The call was from the wildlife department letting us know that a baby walrus was stranded in a lagoon a little way north of town by the old airport. It had been reported a day or two earlier by local fishermen who said the baby walrus was swimming around by their fishing nets. By the time wildlife called us, they were in the process of contacting the Seward Sea Life Center to see if they should capture it or not.  Of course, my roommate, Rose (vet tech/animal control officer) and I headed straight out there to check it out.

The Baby Walrus 
When we got there, the baby walrus was hanging out near the edge of the water and a bearded seal was swimming nearby keeping an eye on it. We snapped a couple photos of the walrus then decided to leave it alone and not stress it out. It was not ten minutes after we got home when the phone rang. It was wildlife. They had decided to capture the walrus and needed a large dog kennel to transport the walrus in. Rose and I once hopped into the truck and headed to the veterinary clinic where we decided that the large dog kennels were too small for the large baby walrus. Instead, we decided that the animal control vehicle with built in kennels would work best.

The walrus in a circle net
Walrus riding in the back of the truck
Back at the lagoon, the walrus had been caught in a circle net. It was much bigger than anyone had expected and so we had to come up with a plan on getting it into the truck. The original plan was to use the net to lift the walrus into the truck, but the net had already scraped the baby walrus in a couple of places. Not wanting to injure the walrus any more, I suggested using a tarp to place under the walrus to lift it into the truck. We called others from wildlife and obtained a tarp and set my plan into motion. While the plan was quite straight forward, carrying it out was no easy task. The walrus weighed about 230 pounds and was very nervous with 7-8 people gathered around it. He kept flailing around and trying to climb off of the tarp. After a couple of minor mishaps, we finally successfully loaded him into the back of the animal control vehicle and headed over to the veterinary clinic.

getting his first health exam
Dr. Coburn, the veterinarian up here in Barrow, took the walrus’s heart rate and gave him a physical exam. She determined that he seemed healthy as far as she could tell. The sea life center was happy to hear that the walrus was healthy and planned to send two of their marine mammal technicians up to Barrow on the next morning’s flight, so we had the task of deciding what to do with the walrus. Our options were to either keep the walrus in a dog kennel inside the clinic and spray him down every few hours to keep him cool or to keep him in an outdoor kennel at the clinic where the temperature outside (~40) would keep him cool. Although those options sounded great, we worried about the logistics of getting him out of the vehicle, into a kennel, then back into a vehicle the next morning. Eventually it was decided that we should just keep the walrus in the back of the vehicle over night where it would stay cool and we wouldn’t have to worry about moving him and potentially dropping him or hurting him on accident.

loading him into the back of the truck
to go back to the clinic until the next flight
The next morning we met the sea life center people at the airport and helped maneuver the walrus into his new cage. We contacted Northern Air Cargo “NAC” who happily agreed to put the walrus on their next cargo flight to Anchorage at 1:15pm. In the mean time, we took the walrus back to the vet clinic. At the clinic we sprayed him down and mixed up an electrolyte formula to feed him. We put the formula into a giant bottle (the kind they use for calves) and then the sea life center guy, Tim, climbed into the cage with him and bottle-fed him. Apparently walruses are very tactile creatures and love human contact once you have gained their trust. After a little while, Tim asked if anyone else wanted to bottle feed him, of course Rose and I both wanted to. Rose climbed in first and the walrus cuddled up right next to her. After about 10 minutes, it was my turn and before I knew it, I had a 230 pound walrus baby in my lap falling asleep. Tim said he was probably only about 1 month old and definitely would not have survived in the wild without his mother. In fact, he would have to be bottle fed until about a year. Basically, the walrus will have someone with him 24/7 at the sea life center and will be bottle-fed every 3-4 hours.
Bottle Feeding

At 1pm it was finally time to take the little guy to the airport and get him loaded onto his flight. We accompanied the baby walrus back to the airport and said our goodbyes. Another sea life center technician would pick him up down in Anchorage and drive him back to Seward in the evening. From there he will spend a few weeks to a couple months at the sea life center until he is shipped to Sea World or one of the many other Zoos & Aquariums capable of housing and caring for the little guy.
Me, Baby Walrus, Rose
Getting unloaded and ready for the flight to Anchorage
I hope to keep track of where the baby walrus goes. They said that there should be information on the Seward Sea Life Center’s webpage in a few days and that they will keep it updated. I hope to get a chance to go back to Seward and visit him before a I leave Alaska in a couple of weeks. This whole experience has been unbelievable. It is definitely something I will never forget. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Southcentral AK and Back to Barrow

On Friday June 29th, I flew home to Tacoma for a friend's wedding and stayed in town for a couple of days. Then on the following Tuesday, I met up with my boyfriend at the airport and flew to Anchorage to visit his parents. While there, we went hiking on Baldy Mountain, clamming near Ninilchik, and fishing outside of Seward. We ended up getting 220 clams, 5 halibut, and 4 lingcod. During our little trip to the Kenai peninsula, I also saw tons of bald eagles, puffins, a bear and a moose. I had a great time exploring Southern Alaska, but that's not the focus of this blog so let's get back to what I've been doing in Barrow....

When I returned to Barrow on Sunday, July 8th I had no cell service. In fact, my phone didn't have service until that Friday. Something was wrong with the local cell tower. It was rough not having cell service, especially when I'm used to having full bars and 3G back home in WA. Also, all the sea ice had finally floated

On Monday morning, I returned to work at the clinic. Dr. Coburn was finally back in town so there were a lot of appointments and spays and neuters scheduled during the week. The sun finally decided to warm this part of the world and the temperature got up to the mid-50's almost every day during the week. In fact, on Tuesday the veterinary clinic staff decided to have a BBQ on the beach at 7:30 that evening. However, by the time our BBQ began, it got cold and windy and dropped to the low 40's. Although I would have liked warmer weather, I still had a great time and the BBQ ribs cooked on the beach were delish!

Vet Clinic Staff Beach BBQ

On Thursday my roommate flew down to Anchorage for eye surgery so I got the fun job of watching her two dogs, a corgi and a chihuahua, until she returned the following Wednesday. 

Beautiful calm afternoon 
Over the weekend, the weather got even better, It was really windy on Thursday and Friday, and the sea ice ended up blowing back to shore. Saturday morning was also pretty windy and rainy, but cleared up during the late afternoon and ended up becoming a warm evening. I decided to take advantage of the warm evening and went for a walk on the beach. 

While walking the beach, I met a dental student up here on a 2 week externship. He didn't know anyone in town, so we exchanged numbers and planned to do the polar bear dive the next day. Lucky for us, Sunday ended up being warm and 60 degrees! We met up in the afternoon and headed to the beach where we were greeted with a million nasty large mosquitos who willingly accompanied us on our search for the perfect iceburg and used us as snacks along the way. We walked the beach until we found an iceburg close enough to shore to wade out to. We waded out to the iceburg and climbed on top of it. Some people walking by took pictures for us while we stood on the ice shivering and fighting off mosquitos. The pictures turned out really good and actually look like we are enjoying a warm and insect free swim. After a couple of minutes on the iceburg we took turns jumping back into the freezing cold arctic ocean. Luckily the sun was still out and warmed us up quickly as we dried off and sipped on hot cocoa. 

Polar Bear Club