Mitik, or Mit for short, is one of two an orphaned Walrus calves rescued off the coast of Barrow, Alaska. It appears he was separated from his herd in the Arctic Ocean in July. They were taken in by the Alaska SeaLife Center and found new homes. Mitik was welcomed by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium (the other, Pakak, was taken in by the Indianapolis Zoo) and diagnosed with a bladder infection and a high white blood cell count. He was also badly dehydrated. Initially, his caregivers did not think he would survive. He received around-the-clock care from a team of 15 animal care staff and veterinarians and responded well to medications. He's bottle-fed every four hours and is gaining as much as a half a pound each day! His last weigh-in put him at 242 pounds (109 kgs).
“He’s hitting every milestone we’re hoping to see,"said Jon Forrest Dohlin, WCS Vice President and Director of the New York Aquarium. "Our veterinarians report to us daily on Mitik's condition, and we anticipate each health report with hope and concern."
Playful and curious, Mit gets a lot of human contact, which is necessary for his well being. “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 his caregivers are beginning to strike a balance between that physical care and weaning him from it for his -- and their -- greater good. He's starting to be so big he could pose a risk when he crawls up for a cuddle. And naturally, he must begin to identify with his own species. Ms. Hiatt said, “He needs to know he’s a walrus.”
Sometime next spring, Mit will join the two other walruses on exhibit at the aquarium, both females: 30-year-old Nuka and 17-year-old Kulu. Until then, Mitik is engaged in a lot of play every day with his human caregivers, some of which is with his favorite toy: a white plastic bucket with holes, as seen in the video below. “He loves to run around with that on his head and vocalize,” Ms. Hiatt said. But much of that play time doubles as training to serve medical check-ups in the future.
Read more about Mitik after the fold:
The New York Aquarium had been wanting a younger companion for its two older walruses, so when the SeaLife Center had these orphans available, the Aquarium flew Martha Hiatt, their Behavioral Husbandry Supervisor, to Alaska. There she worked with approximately 16-week-old Mit for four weeks before flying back to New York with him and a vet on October 11.
Mit stayed in his crate but sang to them the entire time! “It was loud,” Ms. Hiatt said. "We stayed with him, talked to him and hosed him off now and then.”
Mit has settled in at the Aquarium's state-of-the-art medical facility, reportedly enjoying most of his day in their big, eight-foot-deep pool. “He’s a big swimmer. He plays and swims literally until he falls asleep,” reported Hiatt.