Two Young Walruses Arrive to Point Defiance Zoo; Meet the Half-Siblings From Canada


Visitors at Point Defiance Zoo will be able to see its newest additions: walruses Balzak and Lakina.

Male walrus Balzak and female walrus Lakina arrived Wednesday in Tacoma from Aquarium du Québec. The walruses are now two of 14 that are in human care in the U.S., according to Malia Somerville, Point Defiance Zoo's curator of marine mammals and birds.

The 6-year-old half-siblings Balzak and Lakina, who have been together their whole lives, will have access to the public and off-exhibit areas for guests to see. When not visible, zoo visitors may be able to hear them whistling, bubbling, blowing or making other loud noises, according to the zoo's news release.

The zoo is one of four in the country that are accredited to care for walruses. Walruses live in huge colonies in the wild, especially to breed. The Walrus Conservation Consortium, of zoos and aquariums, is creating mini-colonies of breeding-age walruses in bigger zoos. At smaller zoos, like Point Defiance, it takes care of non-breeding animals like Balzak and Lakina.

"Not many people have the chance to visit the Arctic, where walruses live in the wild," Somerville said in a news 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 Québec learning about their personalities, favorite foods and daily routines from their care team. Ploof said in a release they were quick learners.

"Lakina is inquisitive and curious while Balzak is more reserved and patient," Ploof said.

Marie-Pierre Lessard, director of conservation, animal health and research at Aquarium du Québec, said in the release they were saddened Balzak and Lakina were leaving the zoo, but pleased the walruses would continue to receive the highest level of care at Point Defiance Zoo.

Somerville said collaborating with other zoos and aquariums is critical to sustaining 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 Arctic ice melts, they have to swim longer distances expending more energy to reach their food supply. Walruses feed on clams and mussels from the ocean floor.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the species as "vulnerable."

The walruses were imported with approval from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under permit.

Balzak and Lakina will continue to grow at Point Defiance Zoo. Balzak weighs 1,974 pounds, and Lakina weighs 1,058 pounds. Fully-grown males can weigh up to 5,000 pounds and females can weigh up to 2,700 pounds.