Celebrating Walrus Awareness Week

December 10, 2021
Walrus Awareness Week
The first full week of December serves as Walrus Awareness Week, and we couldn’t be happier to be talking about these massive marine mammals.

Walruses are currently classified as a vulnerable species, due in large part to climate change issues. Sea ice is disappearing at an alarming rate, causing loss of natural habitat, which in turn affects population growth for the species. This makes having walruses in zoos and aquariums even more important for species survival. We are fortunate to be part of a Species Survival Program to help build back populations for these important arctic animals. In fact, SeaWorld has the only self-sustaining population of walruses in the US in the last 20 years.

In Orlando, Garfield and Kaboodle have mated, and Kaboodle has given birth to two calves over the last four years: Ginger and Kora. There is also hope that Aurora, another Orlando walrus, will be able to give birth to her own calves, since she has been known to be a strong maternal figure in the past.

Care, Research, & Conservation

Another benefit to having walruses in human care is that we can learn about the species up close to be able to provide care and support for them in the wild too. Walruses in both our San Diego and Orlando parks are participating in three research programs:

  1. Vibrissae growth study with University of Oregon: This study will help determine how fast a walrus’ vibrissae (aka whiskers) grow, and how long before they shed. This is particularly important for other research areas, particularly toxicology, reproductive events, measuring hormones, long-term stress, and dietary habits.

  2. Photogrammetry study with USGS Alaska: Using body measurements provided by our team, researchers will be utilizing drone cameras to take real-time photos of walruses in San Diego and Orlando to assess body conditions and growth rates across different age groups. This will help provide a base line for checking these conditions in the wild and will be important in determining female reproductive cycles.

  3. Hearing study with UC Santa Cruz: With receding ice in the arctic, there is concern that shipping lanes will create a lot of additional noise both above and below water. This study will help give us a clearer understanding of a walrus’ hearing range and how any additional noise may affect them.

Walrus Awareness Week

We have also been at the forefront of important advancements in care and husbandry. Our veterinary and care teams were some of the first to perform a voluntary EKG on a walrus while he was awake, as well as perform a full skull x-ray to determine tusk measurements. Additionally, we were the first to ever provide blood pressure measurements on a walrus AND the calf formula developed in conjunction with Alaska SeaLife is now used at other facilities across the country.

Meet the Walruses

Each of the walruses in our care is unique and has a fun story. In fact, all 12 walruses in human care in the United States have ties to SeaWorld Parks. Currently, there are five walruses living at SeaWorld San Diego and five living at SeaWorld Orlando. Aku and Ginger, who currently reside at the Indianapolis Zoo, both spent time at SeaWorld. Aku was rescued off the Alaska coast as a calf after being separated from his mother, and Ginger was born to Kaboodle and Garfield at SeaWorld Orlando in 2017.

Kaboodle: Born in 2003. Kaboodle was hand-raised by a team at SeaWorld San Diego after it was determined she wasn’t nursing or bonding with her mother. Dr. DiRocco, currently a veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando, recalls bottle-feeding Kaboodle on overnight shifts and teaching her how to get into the water for the first time. Dr. DiRocco was present for both of Kaboodle’s calves births and continues to care for Kaboodle today.

Garfield: Garfield is one of the most popular walruses at SeaWorld Orlando and always leaves a lasting impression on guests. He was orphaned at a young age and came to us to be bottle raised. Now considered geriatric, Garfield has fathered Kaboodle’s two calves and continues to be an important part of walrus research and conservation efforts.

Kora: The second of Kaboodle’s calves, Kora is strongly bonded to her mother, making her a total mama’s girl. She’s known for being the social butterfly amongst the group in Orlando, and can be seen learning from the role models in her life: mom Kaboodle, dad Garfield, and auntie Aurora.

Aurora: Aurora came to SeaWorld Orlando because she was known to be a strong maternal figure. The hope is that Aurora will have a chance to birth her own calves with Garfield. She is known for her quick vocalizations and for doing raspberries at her keepers when she’s in a sassy mood.

Slowpoke: Slowpoke is the oldest walrus in our care, at the ripe old age of 43. She is very intelligent, and even taught herself how to hold the water hose so she could drink from it. She’s also lived with seals, sea lions, AND walruses.

Basa: As the oldest walrus in SeaWorld San Diego, Basa makes it known that she’s the boss. Even still, she loves her sleep, and can be seen partaking in a mid-day nap. She also has bonded well with Kulu, who is a frequent cuddle buddy.

Mitik: Mitik is a true rescue story. He was found off the shore of Barrow, Alaska within weeks of his birth and was brought to Alaska SeaLife Center due to severe illness and injuries. SeaWorld keepers aided in his rehabilitation, helping to start the bottle-feeding process and getting him healthy. He made his way back to the SeaWorld family after spending some time at New York Aquarium. Now, he spends his time playing with Chou Chou and enjoying the occasional snow and jello snack.

Chou Chou: Chou Chou is the social butterfly of the San Diego group, but even so, enjoys her sleep time. Her keepers say that if there’s a pile of sleepy walruses, chances are she is sure to be found right in the middle of it.

Kulu: At 27 years old, Kulu is still as sharp as a tack. She is known for catching on to new behavior very quickly, and actually has the largest behavior repertoire of the San Diego walruses. Kulu spends a lot of her time swimming underneath the waterfalls in her habitat.

Dozer
: Dozer is another walrus born at SeaWorld and has spent time at all three parks. He is considered a gentle giant – being almost double the size of each of the other four walruses in San Diego – and eats about 125 pounds of food each day.

No matter who you speak with at our Wild Arctic teams in both San Diego and Orlando, our ambassadors are extremely passionate about the tusked friends. We are honored to be able to provide care for these unique mammals, and the learnings we gather from them will help better protect the species in the wild.