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Farewell, Dozer!

Dozer, the lovable, 3,078-pound walrus with the 17-inch-long tusks and unmistakable whistle, is leaving Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium mid-September. But there’s still time to bid him farewell.

He’ll be featured on the marine mammal Keeper Talks at 3pm Saturday Sept. 15 and Sunday Sept. 16, the last weekend before he leaves.

Dozer’s a crowd favorite, and he completed his assigned task: While in Tacoma, Dozer bred with the zoo’s three females, Joan, Basilla and Kulu. He arrived last November through the Walrus Conservation Consortium, which is dedicated to aiding the imperiled species both in aquariums and in the Arctic.

dozer the walrus whistlingDuring winter and early spring, Dozer’s whistle became an unmistakable call around the zoo. Male walruses have a number of interesting vocalizations, including bellowing and clacking to signal their desire for mating, give warnings or make other needs known in the wild. But the whistle is what impresses the ladies. And Dozer, in the height of rut, or mating, season made it well known that he was trying to attract the females.

And he definitely loved his food while he was here: In February, he bulked up to around 3,822 pounds on herring, capelin, clam and squid.

Zoo officials won’t know until fall, however, whether the pairings were successful. Once an egg is fertilized, it’s not implanted in the uterus for four to five months – a relatively unique process called delayed implantation. The gestation period is about 15 months.

“We brought Dozer to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in the hope that he and at least one of our female walruses might successfully produce a calf,” said senior staff biologist Lisa Triggs, who has worked with and studied the species for a quarter century. She also earned her master’s degree with scientific research on walrus reproduction.

 dozer underwater photo“There are just 14 Pacific walruses in accredited zoos and aquariums in the United States,” she said. “We are hopeful that we can increase that number. These animals are amazing ambassadors that help our visitors learn about the effects of climate change on marine mammals. They inspire us all to take actions to lower our carbon footprints – like not idling cars.”

Soon, he will be off to another Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ accredited facility for potential mating with other females, Triggs said. He has been in Tacoma on loan from Sea World.

“Visitors to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium have been fortunate to see this magnificent male walrus during the breeding season,” said Dr. Karen Goodrowe Beck, the zoo’s general curator, who holds a Ph.D. in reproductive biology. “We know our visitors will miss him; we hope he has motivated them to learn more about Pacific walruses and how to help them in the wild.”

-Kris Sherman, PDZA