‘Cuddling’: Just what the doctor ordered for rescued walrus calf in Alaska

Aug 4, 2023, 12:51 PM

In this photo provided by the Alaska SeaLife Center, a Pacific walrus pup rests his head on the lap...

In this photo provided by the Alaska SeaLife Center, a Pacific walrus pup rests his head on the lap of a staff member after being admitted to the center's Wildlife Response Program in Seward, Alaska, on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. A walrus calf found by oil field workers in Alaska about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) inland is under 24-hour care as the Alaska SeaLife Center nurses it back to health. The male Pacific walrus was transported across the state Tuesday from the North Slope to Seward in south-central Alaska, where the Alaska SeaLife Center is based. (Kaiti Grant/Alaska SeaLife Center via AP)

(Kaiti Grant/Alaska SeaLife Center via AP)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A walrus calf is being nursed back to health after being found on its own miles inland by oil field workers in Alaska.

The male Pacific walrus was found Monday and flown a day later from the North Slope to Seward, where the Alaska SeaLife Center is based — a journey of at least 700 miles (1,126 kilometers). Staff with the nonprofit research facility and public aquarium are caring for the roughly 200-pound (90 kilogram) animal, which was found to be dehydrated and possibly fighting an infection. ConocoPhillips Alaska, a major oil producer in the state operating on the North Slope, offered the use of a company plane to fly the calf to Seward.

The calf, estimated to be about one month old, was found about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) inland from the Beaufort Sea, the center said. A “walrus trail,” or tracks, was seen on the tundra near a road where the walrus was found. But it’s unclear how, exactly, the calf got there, the center said.

The range of the Pacific walrus includes the northern Bering and Chukchi seas but the walruses are occasionally observed in areas like the Beaufort Sea, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

While calves rely on their mothers for their first two years of life, no adults were seen nearby, which raised concerns about the calf’s ability to survive without intervention, the center said.

In an effort to mimic the near-constant care a calf would get from its mom, the walrus is receiving “round the clock ‘cuddling’” to keep him calm and aid in his development, the center said. It described the cuddling as trained staff giving the walrus “the option to have a warm body to lean up against, which he has been taking advantage of almost constantly.”

The walrus — one of just 10 that the center has cared for in its 25-year history — is already taking formula from a bottle, the center said. The calf likely will be under 24-hour care for at least several weeks, a timeline that will depend on his progress, appetite and medical condition, the center said.

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‘Cuddling’: Just what the doctor ordered for rescued walrus calf in Alaska