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New walruses getting along swimmingly

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s two new walruses Mitik and Pakak are adjusting well to their new home in Rocky Shores, even exploring different areas of the exhibit than other walruses before them.

two walruses in pool
Mitik and Pakak getting along swimmingly in their new home

“They seem to be getting along well. They’re wrestling around a lot and practicing behaviors they will need as they grow up,” said Amanda Shaffer, senior staff biologist at Rocky Shores.

The young males arrived at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in early November, but that wasn’t the first time they met. Both were found orphaned and rescued as calves by local fishermen off the coast near Barrow, Alaska in July 2012. They spent the next three months together at Alaska SeaLife Center, snuggling with keepers and getting back to full health. In October 2020, they were strong enough to find homes at other zoos. This November was the first time they’d seen each other since they were rescued.

Keepers are often asked: “Do they recognize each other from when they were calves?”

“Pakak seems like the little brother who wants to follow Mitik around everywhere,” said Shaffer. “We’ll never know for sure if they remember each other, but they are very playful together.”

The two are also quickly growing even stronger in their new environment. They already recognize their food buckets, eating 50 to 90 pounds a day. Mitik has gained more than 80 pounds and Pakak has gained more than 50 pounds since they first arrived.

“Mitik weighs around 1,900 pounds and Pakak weighs around 1,700. A grown male can weigh up to 5,000 pounds, so they still have more growing to do!” said Shaffer.

walrus swimming in exhibit
Mitik exploring his new home at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

When they are not eating, the walruses are very curious and interactive, especially at the underwater viewing window.

“They watch visitors a lot, swimming in circles and often times all the way to the window looking at people,” said Shaffer. “They definitely seem enriched by their new environment.”

If you can’t see them, you can certainly hear them. Pakak whistles so loudly you can hear him on the opposite side of the zoo.

“They are both making all sorts of vocalizations that you can hear both above water and below water. It’s very fun!” said Shaffer.

Pacific walruses are a threatened species, found in the Bering and Chukchi seas. They feed on clams from the ocean floor and haul out on polar ice to sleep and breed. Hunted by orcas, polar bears and humans, their main threat is actually climate change: As Arctic ice melts they lose their haul-out sites and are forced to forage in shallow water, where the food quickly runs out.

Point Defiance Zoo is a leader in walrus research and conservation, supporting projects through the Dr. Holly Reed Conservation Fund. But everyone can help slow climate change to protect walruses and other species by not idling cars, shopping locally, turning down the thermostat and taking many other actions. Learn more about what you can do to help.

Learn more here: About Pacific walruses, and climate change.