‘Tis the season...for Walrus Awareness Week!December 7, 2020
Guess what time of year it is? It’s Walrus Awareness Week! (quick, say that five times fast!). All kidding aside, the plight of this amazing arctic species is no laughing matter. Walrus habitats are shifting due to loss of sea ice in the summers. Each year, more ice is melting, which means walruses are becoming further separated from their food sources located on the continental shelf.
SeaWorld parks are part of the Walrus Conservation Consortium (WCC), a network of zoological organizations and government agencies whose combined interest is in research, best practices for walrus care and providing a sustainable future for walruses in zoological settings. As part of the WCC, SeaWorld San Diego is currently participating in two research projects that will advance scientific knowledge on the topics of hearing threshold and whisker growth.
In addition to housing walruses and educating the public about the species, SeaWorld also supports walrus conservation efforts around the world through monetary grants from the nonprofit organization SeaWorld Conservation Fund.
What does all this mean to you? We thought Walrus Awareness Week (Dec. 6-12) would be a great time to educate our fans about the species, with the help of one of our top walrus experts, Jeni Smith, who has been caring for these magnificent marine mammals for 10 years.
Q: Jeni, how many walruses live at SeaWorld San Diego right now?
A. We have five walruses in our care. That’s a significant number, given there are only 14 walruses in accredited zoos in North America.
Q: Can you introduce us to them?
A. I would love nothing more!
Chou Chou is a 10-year-old female Pacific walrus who learns new behaviors quickly. She joined the SeaWorld walrus huddle in 2016, after being transferred from a zoological facility in Japan. Chou Chou is currently participating in a research study to help scientists learn more about walruses’ hearing threshold. She chooses between cuddling with Uq Uq or Dozer overnight, and many times she does not want to get out of “bed” for breakfast.
Dozer is the largest walrus at SeaWorld San Diego and one of only two breeding males in North America. He is easily recognizable at 3,600 lbs. and with a full set of tusks! He was born here in 1993, but has spent time at all three SeaWorld parks. Dozer is a favorite among the trainers because of his gentle personality and rugged good looks!
Basa is our oldest walrus at 37 years old. She joined us in 2019 from our partners at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and immediately fit right in with our huddle. Basa uses her sensitive vibrissae to navigate around her environment and even uses them to recognize specific shapes during training sessions. We find that she chooses to sleep extra late at least once a week to catch some z’s and to have more snuggle time with her friend, Kulu.
Kulu is a 1,300 pound, 26-year-old female. She joined SeaWorld’s walrus huddle in 2019 along with her companion Basa from Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Kulu can often be seen swimming under the waterfalls in the exhibit, letting the water splash in her vibrissae.
Uq Uq is a 26-year-old female who joined the SeaWorld walrus huddle in 2017. Most mornings, “Uq” can be found cuddling with Chou Chou. When she hears trainers in the area, she will usually get up and “greet” them walrus style (with vocalizations and her nostrils open).
Q: What is the biggest threat walruses face in the wild?
A. While walruses are not threatened or endangered, their habitats in the Arctic are diminishing due to melting ice caps. The lack of sea ice causes larger than normal numbers of walruses to congregate on beaches, which in turn causes dangerous stampedes and depletes food sources.
Q: How can our fans help this species?
A. Everyone can play a part in walrus conservation through small everyday actions that can make a big difference. Here are a few examples:
a. Thermostat challenge: Adjust your thermostat up or down (depending on the season) by at least two degrees to reduce your energy consumption (and adjust even more at night or when no one is home)
b. The 7 R’s of Sustainability: Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Repurpose, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. For details, visit this website: https://www.aeromatico.com/the-7-rs-of-sustainability/
c. Reduce your carbon footprint in any way you can, such as purchasing an electric vehicle or a hybrid; taking public transportation; reducing the amount of time you let your car idle; and keeping plenty of air in your tires to get better gas mileage.
A. That is a wonderful idea! Children retain information better if they have fun in the process. SeaWorld is offering some really creative, walrus-themed kids’ activities this week that will be shared on our Instagram and Facebook pages. We also have fun educational resources and crafts on our SeaWorld @Home site!