Get to Know Our WalrusesNovember 30, 2017
Hi there! I’m Jeni, one of the senior animal care specialists at Wild Arctic where our walrus, beluga whale and harbor seal animal ambassadors live. Not too many people can combine their career with something they are passionate about and that is why I feel very fortunate to be able to work for a company whose education and conservation efforts make me proud. Combine that with the amazing people and animals I work with on a daily basis and that makes showing up to “work” FUN!
I’d love to introduce you two of the cutest whisker faces here at SeaWorld San Diego. Mitik and Chouchou are two Pacific walruses our team cares for at Wild Arctic.
Mitik is 5 years old and was rescued within weeks of his birth. His story about how he eventually arrived in our care at SeaWorld San Diego is a story for the books! When Mitik was just a few weeks old, he was spotted by a fisherman 8 miles off the coast of Barrow, Alaska swimming by himself. The fisherman observed Mitik for quite some time and never saw his mom or any land or ice nearby.
My fellow senior animal care specialist, Mitzi, assisted with Mitik's rehabilitation at ASLC
The fisherman knew that this could be trouble for Mitik as he should be nursing from his mom for up to two years.
When the fisherman realized there wasn’t ice or land nearby, he knew that Mitik could get very tired from swimming. Since Mitik was estimated to be approximately 9 weeks old, the fisherman knew he needed to help him out; otherwise, he may not survive. So, he got Mitik on board his boat and called his family to meet him ashore. Mitik was brought to the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) to be rehabilitated.
(Fun Fact: Mitik was named after the fisherman's daughter)
He was cared for by the team at ASLC, joined by zoological professionals from various parks with experience raising walrus calves, including two animal care specialists from SeaWorld San Diego.
Once Mitik was stabilized, healthy and had great weight on him, he was transferred to the New York Aquarium. That was supposed to be his forever home… until Hurricane Sandy hit and his habitat was directly affected. He was transported to SeaWorld San Antonio and eventually to SeaWorld San Diego. His story has reached across the nation and we love to tell our guests how he was given a second chance at life!
Chouchou is 7 years old. She arrived to our park the same time as Mitik in January of 2016. She was born at the Kamagowa Aquarium in Japan. Because of our great relationship with their facility, everyone agreed that she and Mitik would be great companion animals. And boy, was everyone right… from the moment they met they have been great together!
Both of the walruses have their own unique personalities. Most mornings, we’ll find them in their habitat curled up together and just like a human youngster….with no intention of getting up!
Chouchou seems to be the type of walrus that would rather watch what’s going on around her from afar. Mitik is the type of walrus that immediately wants to investigate. Whether we are cleaning in the morning (you’ve never lived if you’ve never smelled walrus poop), setting up enrichment or shoveling snow, Mitik usually wants to be right in the middle of whatever it is that we are doing.
Both Chouchou and Mitik are very smart and have continued to learn new behaviors during their time here at SeaWorld San Diego. One of my favorite experiences was being a part of Chouchou’s team of behaviorists that trained her to do a very important husbandry behavior: participating in her own health care and allowing us to take X-rays of her flippers. Also, by participating in research studies, we can help scientists learn more about walruses in the wild.
Walruses rely on the sea ice to haul out on to give birth to their calves. If they lose this crucial part of their habitat due to climate change, their populations will definitely be affected. Each and every time one of our guests has the opportunity to come face-to-face with them at Wild Arctic, I hope they develop affection for the species and become inspired to help Mitik and Chouchou’s wild counterparts.
One of my favorite parts of my job is sharing with our guests that we all have an impact on our environment and that every single action we take as individuals can help protect a beautiful species like the walrus and many more species that need our attention. So the next time you take the extra step to find out if your plastic item can be recycled, or you unplug your electronics when they are not in use, or you walk back to your car because you forgot your reusable bag, I hope that you remember Mitik and Chouchou’s story because through these actions, you are helping their species!