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Rescued walrus baby cuddled ’24 hours a day’ as part of care regimen dies in Alaska

a rescued baby walrus who received hugs “around the clock” as part of his treatment has passed away, the Alaska SeaLife Center said Saturday.

The Pacific walrus calf, believed to be about a month old, was lost and found only about 4 miles inland from the Beaufort Sea. It arrived at the Alaska SeaLife Center on August 1 after being discovered by workers on the state’s North Slope.

The calf suffered from several serious health problems and poor nutrient absorption, the center said. His condition deteriorated and he died on Friday.

“While often rewarding, rescuing wildlife is inherently unpredictable, and with that comes the possibility of great loss,” the center said in an online post. “For those who devote their lives to animal care, this is the hardest part of the job.”

An autopsy will be performed to determine the walrus’ cause of death. He had been dealing with hypoglycemia and gastrointestinal problems.

As part of his care regimen in his final days, the calf was cuddled “24 hours a day” because of how crucial it is for young walruses to be close to their mothers in the first two years of life, the center said.

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Alaska rescued walrus calf
In this photo taken by the Alaska SeaLife Center, Wildlife Response Animal Care Specialists Halley Werner, left, and Savannah Costner fed a Pacific walrus calf that arrived as a patient in Seward, Alaska, on Aug. 1, 2023.

Kaiti Grant/Alaska SeaLife Center via AP

The walrus, who weighed about 140 pounds, was the first walrus patient the Alaska SeaLife Center had treated in four years.

Walruses tend to migrate to the Beaufort Sea in years with little sea ice, which the animals rely on to rest, according to the Marine Mammal Commission. Walrus numbers in the region are expected to decline as global temperatures continue to rise and sea ice melts, “although the magnitude of the predicted decline is unknown.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, commutes to the coast could be more than 100 miles due to receding ice.

“Often young calves don’t survive the full journey. By the time they reach land, walruses are already fatigued from their journey, and in these locations nearby food sources can quickly become depleted,” the fund says. “In addition, because walruses are easily startled — by people, vehicles, polar bears or even small animals — they can trample each other in a stampede to the sea. Tragically, many walruses, especially young calves, die in these stampedes.”

Li Cohen contributed to this report.

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