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Teenage walruses dine on gourmet mussels at new home in U.S. zoo

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2022-12-08T11:07:06Z

A pair of adolescent walruses are settling into their new home at a zoo in Tacoma, Washington, feasting on restaurant-quality mussels and clams.

Six-year-old male Balzak and female Lakina are half-siblings born just two weeks apart, with the same father but different mothers. They are now at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium after an international trip via cargo plane and trucks from the Aquarium du Quebec in Canada.

Because they were initially trained in a French-speaking province of Canada, both walruses are bilingual when it comes to understanding and responding to commands.

There are only 14 walruses, which are considered vulnerable but not endangered, in human care throughout the United States.

“Their main threat is climate change,” Curator Malia Somerville. “The impact that climate change has on walruses is the reducing free-flowing ice floes, which is where they would haul out to rest and which also provides habitat for their food items.”

The zoo keeps a six-month stockpile of restaurant-quality seafood frozen at minus 22 Fahrenheit (minus 30 Celsius).

“We go through 16,000 pounds (7,300 kg) of clam per year just for walruses alone,” said assistant curator Sheriden Ploof. “Whatever seafood you would eat in a restaurant is what we are feeding our walruses.”

In addition to gourmet food, the teens with tusks also got a dental perk in Quebec not available in the wild — caps to promote good health.

“Their tusks lack enamel or have very little enamel. So that makes them prone to developing wear very easily. And because they can get wear on them, they can get an infection,” said head veterinarian Karen Wolf.

In human terms, both are considered teenagers in puberty.

Once the walruses are old enough to breed, they may be relocated to suitable partners.

“Once they are able to reproduce, they might go to meet other walruses so that they can have children of their own,” said Somerville.

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Related Galleries:

Six-year-old walruses Balzak and Lakina swim inside the exhibit at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, U.S., November 17, 2022. Katie Cotterill/Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Handout via REUTERS

Six-year-old walrus Balzak is fed by trainers inside the exhibit at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, U.S., November 17, 2022. Katie Cotterill/Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Handout via REUTERS

Six-year-old walruses Balzak peeps through an exhibit gate while receiving at medical checkup at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, U.S., November 30, 2022. REUTERS/Matt Mills McKnight

Six-year-old walrus Balzak participates in a training exercise inside the exhibit at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, U.S., November 16, 2022. Katie Cotterill/Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Handout via REUTERS
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