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Alaska SeaLife Center’s I.Sea.U Welcomes Walrus Calf as First Patient


Seward, AK (August 8, 2012) –The Alaska SeaLife Center has opened its newest animal care area, the I.Sea.U critical care unit. The unit’s first patient is an orphaned male walrus calf from Barrow who arrived at the Center on July 22.  The 275-pound calf is stable, suckling readily from a bottle and interacting well with his caregivers.

On June 8, the I.Sea.U had been officially opened during World Oceans Day festivities as a nursery for stranded sea otters. Since no live sea otters have been admitted to the stranding program this summer, the I.Sea.U remained unoccupied until now.  “We prepared first for our most common species requiring intensive care, the northern sea otter.  Readying the space to house walrus had been planned for Phase 2 this coming winter, but we’ve gotten there more quickly with this pressing need,” said Brett Long, the Center’s husbandry director.

The I.Sea.U is able to maintain a stricter quarantine than the existing stranding facilities at the Alaska SeaLife Center, as staff or visiting care providers will be able to adhere to tighter shower and clothing-change protocols when entering and exiting the unit. The new unit will also have dedicated staff support and is physically separated from the other established stranding areas of the building. A heightened concern for strict quarantine followed the designation of an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in 2011 after some North Slope pinnipeds appeared weak and lethargic with hair loss and ulcerated skin lesions. To date, most of the affected animals have been ring seals, but other ice seals and walrus have also been found with consistent symptoms. The cause of the UME is still unknown. 

In addition to the walrus calf being cared for in the I.Sea.U, ASLC stranding staff are caring for a second walrus calf behind-the scenes. The second calf, currently in critical condition, was stranded in Barrow a week later than the first and was admitted to the Center on July 30.  A third walrus calf was also admitted to the Center on July 30 but died approximately 24 hours later of multiple complications relating to his initial stranding, including severe malnutrition, dehydration, and systemic illness.

Visitors to the Center can overlook the activities in the I.Sea.U through one-way windows.  The unit was made possible through the generous donations from Barbara Weinig, the MK LeLash Foundation, ConocoPhillips, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, and the Minnesota Zoo.

The Alaska SeaLife Center is the only permanent marine rehabilitation center in Alaska responding to stranded wildlife such as sea otters, harbor seals, and walrus.  The stranding program responds to walrus with the authorization of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The Center responded to four stranded walrus calves between 2003 and 2007, but this year’s calves are the first walrus admitted in the last five years.  Once a stranded marine mammal is admitted to the ASLC, it receives care from our experienced and dedicated veterinary and animal care staff.  

The Alaska SeaLife Center operates a 24-hour hotline for the public to report stranded marine mammals or birds, and encourages people who have found a stranded or sick marine animal to avoid touching or approaching the animal; instead, those individuals should call 1-888-774-SEAL (7325).

The Alaska SeaLife Center is a private non-profit research institution and visitor attraction which generates and shares scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems.  The Alaska SeaLife Center is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.alaskasealife.org.

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