By Erika Allen
Senior Marine Mammal Trainer
Getting to know walrus has been one of the highlights of my career as a Senior Marine Mammal Trainer here at the Indianapolis Zoo. The relationships I have formed with our two walrus, Pakak and Aurora, bring joy to every workday when I get to see their whiskered faces and share their stories with our Zoo visitors.
My role as a trainer involves providing for our walrus’ mental and physical wellbeing. Every morning we prepare the fish and clams that make up the walrus diet for the day. Did you know that an adult male walrus can eat up to 80-100 pounds of food a day? In order to keep our walrus physically fit, we encourage swimming by placing enrichment items in the pool on a random schedule. These items can be sturdy plastic toys for the walrus to interact with, frozen blocks of ice with fish inside, tubs filled with fish or ice cubes, or even Jell-o! We also interact with the walrus through training sessions to stimulate creative thinking and problem-solving as well as teach them useful behaviors, such as how to step on a scale or allow their teeth to be brushed, in order to help manage their care.
So much love goes into the care of these animals that it’s no surprise the training staff has developed close relationships with them. Pakak and Aurora have very different personalities and no two days are the same when interacting with them. This fun, dynamic, and sometimes unpredictable nature makes it even more exciting for us to share these animals and our relationships with them with our Zoo visitors.
Caring for a marine mammal that can weigh more than 3,000 pounds comes with a unique set of challenges, too. Here at the Zoo we have a talented 24/7 team of life support specialists and a water quality technician who work tirelessly to maintain an optimal environment for our walrus. We also have a team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians who work closely with trainers to accomplish some amazing cooperative health care behaviors.
Many of our visitors are unaware of the many things that make walrus so great until they get the opportunity to see and learn about them up close. Yet these amazing animals are also vulnerable to extinction. The impact of making a connection with such an iconic Arctic species right here in Indianapolis can inspire hope to create a better future for the world we share.
Our hope as trainers is that our relationships with the walrus not only benefits their care but also inspires our visitors to help protect all wild things and wild places.
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