Liz Moomey / The Newsstand
Visitors to the Point Defiance Zoo will be able to see its latest additions: the Balzak and Lakina walruses.
Male walrus Balzak and female walrus Lakina arrived in Tacoma on Wednesday from the Aquarium du Québec. According to Malia Somerville, curator of marine mammals and birds at Point Defiance Zoo, walruses are now two of 14 that are cared for by humans in the United States.
Six-year-old half-siblings Balzak and Lakina, who have been together their entire lives, will have access to the public and off-exhibit spaces that visitors can see. When they are not visible, zoo visitors may hear them hissing, bubbling, blowing or making other loud noises, according to the zoo’s press release.
The zoo is one of four zoos in the country accredited to care for walruses. Walruses live in huge colonies in the wild, especially to reproduce. The Walrus Conservation Consortium, made up of zoos and aquariums, creates mini-colonies of breeding-age walruses in larger zoos. In smaller zoos, like Point Defiance, he takes care of non-breeding animals like Balzak and Lakina.
“Few people get the chance to visit the Arctic, where walruses live in the wild,” Somerville said in a press release. “Our community has a rare opportunity to see this extraordinary species up close, learn about the challenges walruses face in the wild, and take action to protect them.”
To prepare for the move to Point Defiance Zoo, Assistant Curator Sheridan Ploof spent a week in Quebec City learning about their personalities, favorite foods and daily routines from their care team. Ploof said in a statement that they are learning quickly.
“Lakina is curious and inquisitive while Balzak is more reserved and patient,” Ploof said.
Marie-Pierre Lessard, director of conservation, animal health and research at the Aquarium du Québec, said in the statement that they were saddened that Balzak and Lakina were leaving the zoo, but happy that the walruses continued to receive the highest level of care at the Point Defiance Zoo. .
Somerville said collaboration with other zoos and aquariums is key to maintaining the walrus population.
The main threat to walruses is climate change. Floating sea ice gives walruses a place to rest above their feeding grounds, and as the arctic ice melts they must swim longer distances expending more energy to reach their supplies eating. Walruses feed on clams and mussels from the bottom of the ocean.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified the species as “Vulnerable”.
The walruses were imported with the approval of the US Fish & Wildlife Service under permit.
Balzak and Lakina will continue to grow at the Point Defiance Zoo. Balzak weighs 1,974 pounds and Lakina weighs 1,058 pounds. Adult males can weigh up to 5,000 pounds and females up to 2,700 pounds.