Walruses return to Aquarium du Quebec in November
Walruses Lakina and Balzak are saying au revoir to the Vancouver Aquarium in November.
The pair of rambunctious toddler walruses – now three years old – were born at the Aquarium du Quebec in 2016. They came to stay temporarily at the Vancouver Aquarium in the fall of 2017 while the Aquarium du Quebec was undergoing renovations.
Sadly, walrus populations in the wild are declining. While at the Vancouver Aquarium, Lakina and Balzak were been part of an international research program to better understand how climate change and other environmental disturbances are impacting walrus populations in the Arctic.
According to Dr. David Rosen, a UBC and Ocean Wise researcher, who has been studying Lakina and Balzak at the Vancouver Aquarium, “it is walruses, not polar bears, that should be the poster child for climate change and sea ice loss in the Arctic.”
This is because walruses are more ice-dependent than polar bears. They require ice flows to raise their calves, and to forage efficiently. When the ice isn’t where it is supposed to be, walruses have farther to swim to get food, or they have to haul out on land which costs more energy, and makes their calves vulnerable to disease and trampling.
With the arrival of Balzak and Lakina, Ocean Wise researchers began working on answering two questions: what are the food requirements of walruses, and how might the caloric requirements of walruses increase if they are forced to be even more active when searching for food.
Ocean Wise researchers set up a study to measure Lakina and Balzak’s resting metabolic rate (how much energy they use while simply resting in the water). To do this Lakina and Balzak were trained to surface inside a floating dome for 7-10 minutes which measured their oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide output.
The information collected from Lakina and Balzak, together with data from a parallel study with older walruses at an Ocean Wise aquarium in Spain, will be instrumental in enabling scientists to make better predictions about how climate change will impact walrus populations in the Arctic, and inform walrus conservation programs.
If you would like to say goodbye to Lakina and Balzak yourself, visit VanAqua.org to check the walrus training schedule. Note that walrus trainings are sometimes cancelled if the walruses are sleeping —walruses can sleep for periods of 19 hours straight!
Lakina and Balzak are scheduled to leave the Vancouver Aquarium in mid-November.
To learn more about Ocean Wise Research, and to support, visit https://research.ocean.org/.