Otaru Aquarium’s fun friends: action of pushing a newborn walrus was surprising

July 7

The walrus cub sidles up to the feet of the keeper (photo courtesy of Otaru Aquarium)

As a keeper of almost 20 years, at 2:37 p.m. on May 4, I was able to observe the birth of a walrus for the first time.

The birth was the mother, Ulya’s fourth but, until now, they were all in the early hours when the keepers responsible for the walruses were not present, and instead we were informed of the births via a telephone call from the nighttime security guard.

But this time was different. Ulya, who until a few minutes before giving birth was swimming, climbed out of the water and onto land. The moment I saw her straining with a distressed cry, my heart began to race. When I looked closely, I could already see the hind limbs of the baby walrus. As it rocked its body left and right, its hips became visible. In the next instance, its small black face could be seen.

Shortly after being impressed by the birth, I was surprised by the actions of Ulya towards the newborn pup. With the tip of her nose, Ulya pushed the pup quite violently, sometimes using her front limbs to push it against the wall several times. What was this behavior? If a human baby does not cry when it is born, it is sometimes necessary to smack its bottom to make it cry and confirm it is breathing, and I sensed this was similar.

This was just a guess, and I still do not know whether or not it is correct but, for Ulya, who is now raising her 4th infant, it seemed like natural behavior. Right now, they live healthily together, exchanging cries as the mother constantly keeps watch so that her baby does not fall in the water.

The cub’s name has not yet been decided but every effort is being made to make sure it is raised healthily.
(Tokuyama Wataru, marine animal breeding section, Otaru Aquarium)

Location

Otaru Aquarium

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