Walrus dies at Aquarium

September 3, 2009 at 4:28 pm Leave a comment

Akituusaq, a two-year-old Pacific walrus that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg once said “melted the hearts of millions,” died on Tuesday of complications from pneumonia, the New York Aquarium, the walrus’s birthplace and home, announced on Wednesday.

He was only the 10th walrus born in captivity in North America since 1968, and the first ever born at the aquarium.

Tests after the walrus’s death revealed that he had suffered from a severe case of pneumonia, said Jon Forrest Dohlin, the director of the aquarium. “It is going to take some time to get beneath that,” he added. “Is it bacterial? Is it viral?”

His father, Ayveq, died last year. Both Ayveq and the calf’s mother, Kulusiq, were orphaned at three weeks in a legal hunt by Eskimos near St. Lawrence Island, between Alaska and Siberia.

Akituusaq, who had been seen by well over one million visitors at his Coney Island home, had stopped eating for four or five days, Mr. Dohlin said. At first the staff thought maybe it was because he was teething, but when he continued not to eat, the concern increased. “What really turned it was that he wasn’t getting any better, he wasn’t opening his mouth,” Mr. Dohlin said.

Upon performing an examination, aquarium officials could hear the difficulty he was having with his lungs. “You could hear it,” Mr. Dohlin said. “It was clear it was swollen.” They gave him antibiotics and fluids to keep him hydrated, but he never recovered.

Akituusaq’s birth, on June 12, 2007, to a first-time mother, was unusual in that it took place in captivity. Walruses in the wild can have life spans of up to 50 years.

The walrus made a much-heralded public debut on Sept. 26, 2007.

“He was not only born in captivity, but really thrived,” Mr. Dohlin said. “He was a big, growing boy, so happy and healthy.” In his 26-month life span, he grew to 320 pounds, from 115.

Even though the baby walrus was born in Brooklyn, his floppy mien enthralled the country. His name, which means “gift given in return” in the Yupik language, was selected through a nationwide competition that attracted more than 9,000 votes. The result was announced on the “Today” program. The other contenders were Utvak (”ice cube”), Ukiivak (”King Island”) and Utumek (”Earth”).

Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, said in a statement:

Although his ancestors hail from colder climes, Akituusaq was pure Brooklyn, having been born in Coney Island at the aquarium just two years ago. I know that I — along with many Brooklynites — was very proud that a rare birth of a Pacific walrus took place right here in Brooklyn, tribute indeed to the dedication to conservancy and care for which the New York Aquarium has long been known.

Akituusaq had been a major draw for Coney Island visitors (many of whom took photos), and his face had been featured in a lot of the aquarium’s promotional materials. “He was a great ambassador for wildlife,” Mr. Dohlin said. “He was a bright little fellow, very charismatic.”

At the aquarium, it has almost been like a death in the family. “It’s devastating for the staff,” Mr. Dohlin said.

By Jennifer 8. Lee

New York Times

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Entry filed under: Brooklyn, Get Wet, Public Waterfront. Tags: , , .

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