Sandy Stories: Baby Walrus Saved But New York Aquarium Deluged

The future of the aquarium and its animals hangs in the balance.

The face of a Sandy survivor -- Mitik the walrus. (Photo: Alaska Sea Life Center)
The director of the Public Trust Project, Alison has written for Grist and Politics Daily, among others.

The New York Aquarium in Coney Island has closed indefinitely due to damage sustained during Hurricane Sandy. Aquarium officials are making the call today about whether their animals will be transported to other facilities for safe-keeping.

But thanks to the tireless efforts of aquarium staff, ocean lovers can smile about Mitik, the facility’s brand new baby walrus calf, who survived the storm despite severe flooding in his new home.

Mitik “weathered the storm without incident, and seemed interested and amused by all the activity around him,” Jim Breheny, executive vice president of the Aquarium wrote in a press release.

Mitik arrived at the Coney Island facility in October, after local fishermen found him trying to climb aboard a vessel in the ocean off Alaska. He was alone, dehydrated, and “visibly underweight.”

The calf underwent six weeks of rehabilitation at the Alaska Sea Life Center, including a course of antibiotics for a bladder infection, and therapy to learn how to suckle from a bottle and urinate on his own. By the time he was transferred to the Aquarium, he was happily swimming in an enclosure, and feeding without assistance.

Astoundingly, the baby weighed in at 236 pounds!

All 236 pounds of him needed care when Hurricane Sandy roiled New York on Monday evening. According to The New York World, all 14 acres of the New York Aquarium, located just off Coney Island’s boardwalk, were underwater in the aftermath of the storm.

Aquarium staff stayed overnight on Monday, braving flood waters and winds, to tend to Mitik and the other animals. They were able to establish temporary life support systems, saving them from harm.

But Mitik still requires round-the-clock care and monitoring because of his health issues. And the future of the facility that houses him remains uncertain.

Aquarium officials are using generator power to restore filtration to tanks. Two main exhibit buildings have fully restored power, but many areas remain inundated with floodwater.

The Aquarium currently holds 12,000 animals, including marine mammals like walruses, sea otters and California sea lions, reptiles like loggerhead sea turtles, as well as thousands of fish. An exhibit dedicated to sharks was planned for 2015.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Aquarium, reported that its four New York area zoos in Central Park, the Bronx, Queens, and Prospect Park, have not been affected by Sandy.

Mitik fans around the globe will be rooting for the Aquarium and its star attraction.

But Mitik’s brothers and sisters in the wild are no less threatened. The Pacific Walrus population has shrunk to approximately 200,000 individuals. The Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that walrus’ are so threatened that they qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act, primarily because of Arctic habitat loss due to climate change.  

Have your heard of another heroic animal story from Frankenstorm Sandy? If so, share it with us in the COMMENTS.

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