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Coast Guard helps transport 2 more orphaned walruses

Mark Thiessen
Lt. Joe Klinker / Coast Guard photo via AP

Three Pacific walruses separated from their mothers are now under care at an Alaska aquarium.

The three males are believed to be from the same group of walruses that floated on ice past Barrow, on Alaska's northern coast, on July 17.

The first abandoned calf was found stranded in a Barrow lagoon late last week. It was flown on a commercial flight to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.

The other two calves were found Monday near Barrow, malnourished and in need of veterinary care.

No commercial flights were available, so the Coast Guard flew the walruses to Anchorage in large kennels in a transport plane.

"With our new presence in the Arctic, we can provide our help and support in a variety of ways," Capt. Melissa Rivera, commanding officer of Air Station Kodiak, said in a written statement.

From Anchorage, the walruses were transported by truck 125 miles south to Seward, where health assessments were taken.

The first walrus rescued learned how to suckle from a bottle while it was still in Barrow, SeaLife Center President Tara Riemer Jones said. It's grown from 258 pounds since it arrived to 269 on Monday.

But the newest walruses are smaller; one weighs 185 pounds, the other 161 pounds.

"We're suspecting these two were away from their mothers for longer," Riemer Jones said.

They haven't learned yet how to suckle from a bottle, so "these guys are going to take a little more work," she said.

The two new arrivals each had their own assigned caretaker to watch over them the first night. Staffers from other zoos and aquariums who've worked with walruses have offered to come to Alaska to help with their care.

The calves are the first walrus visitors at the Alaska SeaLife Center since 2007. Earlier this year, the center was involved with a high-profile and expensive rescue of an abandoned beluga whale calf. Despite around-the-clock care, the beluga died.

The latest arrivals continue to strain the nonprofit center's stranding budget.

The program received $180,000 from Shell Oil Co. and $100,000 from ConocoPhillips earlier in the year, before the beluga arrived. Riemer Jones said BP then donated $50,000 to the program.

The center is planning a 5K Wildlife Rescue Run on Saturday, encouraging virtual runners to sign up online to raise funds for the stranding program.

Registration is $25 per person for the run, which isn't expected to generate a huge amount of cash for the stranding program.

"It's also important for us to get a lot of people that are really supporting the program with their hearts, as well as with their dollars," she said.

Photos: Orphaned walrus calf
Video: First walrus calf at SeaLife Center
By MARK THIESSEN
Associated Press