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. 

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