Animal lovers, be warned: After watching the video of the orphaned walrus calves Mitik and Pakak, you may want to take them home. You can’t. But if you’re in the Big Apple next spring, you should be able to go visit Mit at the New York Aquarium (Pakak is moving to Indianapolis Zoo).
The mustachioed youngsters were discovered near Barrow this past summer and cared for at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Both were several weeks old when they were rescued in July—far too young to make it on their own. Calves typically stick with their mother for the first two years of their lives.
Walruses have long used the sea ice over the shallow continental shelf in Arctic waters as a resting platform. Mothers temporarily leave their offspring, diving to the seafloor to forage for clams and other bottom-dwelling animals.
As sea ice has retreated in recent summers, scientists have seen growing numbers of abandoned walrus calves offshore, likely because mothers are forced to leave their young behind as they follow rapidly retreating ice. Biologists have also noted unprecedented numbers of females and calves staying onshore—something males typically do. Terrestrial haulouts can be deadly for young, as calves can be trampled to death.
Mitik at the New York Aquarium. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
Happily, Mit is settling in at his new home in Coney Island, Brooklyn, The New York Times reports:
With his curious, playful personality and expressive eyes, it is tempting, aquarium officials say, to think of Mit as a big, slippery toddler. (The giant bottle of formula does not help.) He still needs — and receives — a lot of human contact. “He likes us to be physical, grab his flippers and roll him over,” Ms. Hiatt said. “And he still really loves to snuggle in close.”
But the veterinarian technicians and keepers caring for Mit are trying to dial that physicality back a bit, both for their safety and his own good. For one thing, he now weighs 242 pounds, a size that could start to pose risks for staff members. More important, Mit must begin to identify with his own species, in preparation for his eventual debut in the walrus exhibit.
The lucky guy’s roommates? The aquarium’s two other walruses—both of which happen to be females. Still, it may take him a while to get lucky: male walruses become fertile at five to seven years old, but, in the wild, they aren’t able to compete for mates until about a decade later, when they reach full physical maturity.