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Walrus Calves “Pakak” and “Mitik” Entertain Each Other and Visitors to the Alaska SeaLife Center

Alaska SeaLife Center employees feed Pakak and Mitik

Alaska SeaLife Center employees feed Pakak and Mitik

Photo: Courtesy of Alaska SeaLife Center

Seward, AK (August 30, 2012) –The Alaska SeaLife Center’s I.Sea.U is a busy place, housing two engaging male walrus calves and rotating teams of human caregivers around the clock.

The two walrus were both found stranded near Barrow in July. They were rescued one week apart, arriving in Seward on July 22 and July 30.  After admission to the Center, the calves were initially housed separately. Last week, Center veterinarian Dr. Carrie Goertz determined that the animals could be housed together, explaining, “In the previous week, the younger calf made huge strides towards overcoming various complications and began to suckle from a bottle.  Walrus are very social animals, and joint housing will enable the walrus to learn to socialize together and provide companionship to each other.”

Center staff have nicknamed the animals “Pakak” and “Mitik.”  Pakak, the larger walrus who was first to arrive, is approximately 315 pounds at about 12 weeks of age.  “Pakak” means “one that gets into everything” in Inupiaq and was initially suggested because fishermen first found him tugging on their fishing nets. Caregivers report that the name is indeed fitting.  Mitik, the smaller and younger walrus, is approximately 175 pounds at about 9 weeks of age.  The name “Mitik” was suggested by the daughter of one of the rescuers who helped to care for the calf in Barrow immediately following his rescue.

Visitors to the Center on Sunday stood in front of one-way windows overlooking the new I.Sea.U critical care facility and were treated to a front-row view of the unannounced introduction of the two calves. In the ensuing days, the animals have become close companions, nuzzling each other, exploring their enclosure, napping together, and taking turns chasing each other around their pool. Interpreters stationed adjacent to the I.Sea.U facility have enjoyed answering visitor questions about Pakak, Mitik, and walrus in general.

The unexpected around-the-clock care of two walrus calves was a challenge met squarely by the Center with the assistance of visiting animal care staff from Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and SeaWorld San Diego.  Staff members who normally work in administrative and educational areas have been volunteering to assist on overnight shifts as summer interns depart Seward and return to school.  Donors from across the country have provided the financial resources key to maintaining these animals. “We have no federal or state funding to care for stranded walrus calves and we rely on donations to keep this program going,” said Tara Riemer Jones, president and CEO of the Alaska SeaLife Center. Major corporate contributors to the wildlife rescue program include Shell Exploration and Production, ConocoPhillips Alaska, and BP Alaska.

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 have been the first walrus admitted in the last five years.

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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