Pakpak, © Alaska SeaLife Center

Orphaned Baby Walrus Charms our Alaska Program Director, Karla Dutton!

Quite often in our wildlife conservation jobs, we find ourselves spending far too much time at our desks, instead of viewing the very wildlife we work to protect. That changed for me this past weekend, when I was thrilled to volunteer at the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) to help care for a walrus calf that was orphaned in July when it was separated from its herd off of Barrow, Alaska.

The ASLC is the northern most arctic marine research facility, the only permanent stranding facility for marine mammals in Alaska.  It also houses a research facility and a public aquarium.  In my role as a trained volunteer, I’ve assisted with the care of Steller sea lions, arctic seabirds, and seals.  Working with the walrus calf was a very unique experience.

Walruses, or more specifically in this case Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), are large flippered marine mammals that live in remote arctic locations. Adult males can weigh more than 3,700 lbs. and, among pinnipeds (the family that includes walruses, seals, and sea lions), are exceeded in size only by the two species of the elephant seal.  Walruses prefer to haul out on sea ice over the continental shelf, near their main food source of mollusks and crustaceans.  But as Arctic sea ice shrinks each year, it becomes more difficult for them to find a safe location to rest and raise their calves safely near their feeding grounds.

The young walrus is healthy and happy, thanks to excellent care by volunteers and SeaLife Center staff.

Knowing about the challenges walruses face made meeting the orphaned calf even more special.  Staff and trained volunteers at the Alaska SeaLife Center care for the calf (who I called Walter) and another walrus calf 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  I worked three four-hour shifts, during which we prepared walrus formula and fed the calf every three hours. He now weighs about 300 pounds! When we were not feeding or cleaning up after him, we spent time with him while he played in his pool filled with icy cold water or explored his pen.  He has since been named Pakak, which means “one who that into everything” in Inupiaq.  This adorable video was taken soon after he arrived:

Walrus are very tactile and social animals. The dedicated staff and volunteer caretakers provide the social interaction that he would otherwise receive from other walruses. Walrus calves almost immediately habituate to human care, and therefore cannot be released into the wild after being rehabilitated.  So the two orphaned walrus will be placed in an aquarium with other walruses in the fall.  Like the iconic polar bear, they will become ambassadors for Arctic wildlife.

Here’s Pakak in a later video enjoying his baby pool, which it looks like he may outgrow very soon!

To learn more


Categories: Alaska, Arctic, walrus, Wildlife

23 Responses to “Orphaned Baby Walrus Charms our Alaska Program Director, Karla Dutton!”

  1. Diana

    This baby orphaned walrus needs his own Pakak Facebook page. Loved the video and info. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kieghley crawford

    This made me smile. I have fallen in love with walruses. I am so proud of the brilliant human beings that take care of these beautiful creatures! Thank you and God bless

  3. Yvonne Muir

    This is a beautiful story and having the absolute pleasure of visiting the centre I can only congratulate them and their dedicated team of volunteers on an amazing job:)

  4. dig that crow strut

    Reading this story made my heart smile! Pakak is just darling!! Many thanks to all the folks who cared for the lil’ guy!!! …….Bless you all!

  5. Craig

    Thank you for providing this rehab and time for these beautiful creatures.

  6. Sue

    I think Walter aka Pakak is adorable and I am s glad that the volunteers and workers at this facility are taking such good care of him. I can Walter loves attention and lots’ of affection. He’s just an all around cutie pie. I wish Walter a happy, joyous and very long life..

  7. Juli

    It brought tears to my eyes to see him scoot his way to the “babysitters” to snuggle up with them. PRECIOUS.

  8. Suzana Hauer

    What a nice story and great work to do. I would love to have a job like that. Thank you. It made me smile!

  9. Linda

    So adorable!!!! I am so glad that there are all these good people taking care of Walter and so many other animals.

  10. John P. Jackson

    Partsanism may not be appreciated on this forum but, I’ll wager, that almost all of the folks that voted for this foolish bill had R after their names.

  11. linda

    Aww. how sweet. Walruses are so oute. If you see this video and dont at least smile you are not alive. Thanks for sharing, and for taking such good care of them.

  12. Claudia

    This is MIRACULOUS! LOVE it! Wish I could work with one! Heartbreaking AND heartwarming at the same time!

  13. Suzanne

    God bless you for having such wonderful people and a wonderful program to take care of this walrus and other stranded critters…such sweet animals. It broke my heart to watch him snuggle up to the caretaker.

  14. ilaria

    I had never seen this kind of seal before…It is so lovely,wish I was there to play with this creature!

  15. tammy

    too bad that after all that effort, the walrus is going to an aquarium. no one else is bothered by this? it would also be nice if every rescue story wasn’t about ‘cute’. when are we going to see a story about ‘cute’ spiders?

  16. Gerri C.

    Saw the story about him on the news the other day. He’s so precious. Thank you for taking care of him and the other orphans that need your help.

  17. Larry

    ‘Great story! I hadn’t thought that walruses were that trainable. Thanks for all you do!

  18. Ann

    Is this the same one that was in the New York pool? I saw them this past summer and fell in love with them in the Artic Ocean. Years ago Olga was a darlin in the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago

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