Local Photography, Science

Love and Tough Love for Baby Walrus

Eleven days ago, the baby walrus was less than enthusiastic about feeding from a bottle. Today, he waited impatiently and watched anxiously as the Alaska Sealife Center staff prepared his bottle. It apparently took forever; he alternately drooped against the enclosure door, stood up on his hind legs for a better view, checked out the big white towel on the floor, and went back to peek through the netted door. If he could ring a service bell, it would have been long and loud.

Finally, the magic door opened and the Stranding Staff stepped in with the giant baby bottle. According to the ASLC, he is fed a special wildlife brand of powdered formula plus salmon oil and vitamin and mineral supplements every three hours. It took him about four minutes to suck down the contents and he didn’t spill a drop.

About an hour later, out came the “nudge board.” Time for a swim! Swimming is not only an important skill to learn but is also for exercise and to help his digestive process. Unlike the little red spa pool filled with 80º water, the water in his enclosure is right from the bay, about 50º. The little tyke does not like it! So gently but firmly, the staff nudged him over the edge with the board where he entered with a big, ungraceful, full body splash.

He spent the next required 20 minutes trying to get out. The water was just deep enough that he couldn’t push off from the bottom, so it was quite a workout for his upper body. He did actually swim around a little, and got up on the floating raft. But every time he tried to get out, there was that red nudge board. Darn!

After a perceived eternity, pool time ended. The staff removed the nudge board and increased the flow to raise the water level. He tried and tried and tried, his front flippers braced on the deck, back flippers churning furiously. As the visitors watching from above cheered, he almost succeeded then slipped back down again and again. “A” for effort!

Whether it was the higher water level, or sheer persistence, he at last wriggled his 140# onto the deck. Yay! Within a minute, he was cuddling with a seated staff member, ready for a nap. Quite an exciting afternoon in the life of a 7-week old baby walrus!

The ASLC is open Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 9 pm, and Friday through Sunday from 8 am to 9 pm. Walrus talks are presented daily at noon and 7 pm. It’s an exciting opportunity to watch this amazing toddler grow!

Carol Griswold

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