translating biophilia into a love of life

A tribute to the walrus

with 2 comments

She dances, loves music and is learning to play the saxophone.  While this sounds like the beginning of a personals ad, it’s actually a short description of Sara, a walrus who lives at a “zoo” in Istanbul, Turkey.

Training an animal as a spectacle for public entertainment falls outside the definition of a zoo:

zoo (z)n. pl. zoos 1. A park or an institution in which living/wild animals are kept, studied, bred, and exhibited to the public.

First, a wild animal is — by definition — not a pet and certainly not a performer of tricks.  If an animal is to be kept for study, every effort should be made to maintain the animal in a near non-captive state to learn the most about it’s behavior.  From what I saw in the video of Sara, her life has been stripped of all aspects of walrus identity.  Her tusks have been removed, she lives in isolation from others of her species (the walrus naturally lives in colonies), and her behavioral repertoire now includes ballroom dancing for food rewards.

walrus colony

Walrus colony

Given the emphasis the zoo has placed on anthropomorphizing Sara, it seems the grandeur and unique biology of the walrus is not enough to merit interest in Sara.

In honor of Sara — and all shorn-tusked, performing walruses everywhere — a tribute to the walrus (taken from Wikipedia):

The walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) is a large flippered marine mammal with a discontinuous circumpolar distribution in the Arctic Ocean and sub-Arctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere. The walrus is the only living species in the Odobenidae family and Odobenus genus. It is subdivided into three subspecies:[1] the Atlantic Walrus (O. rosmarus rosmarus) found in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Walrus (O. rosmarus divergens) found in the Pacific Ocean, and O. rosmarus laptevi, found in the Laptev Sea.

The walrus is immediately recognizable due to its prominent tusks, whiskers and great bulk. Adult Pacific males can weigh up to 4,500 lb (2,041 kg),[3] and, among pinnipeds, are exceeded in size only by the two species of elephant seals.[4] It resides primarily in shallow oceanic shelf habitat, spending a significant proportion of its life on sea ice in pursuit of its preferred diet of benthic bivalve mollusks. It is a relatively long-lived, social animal and is considered a keystone species in Arctic marine ecosystems.

Walrus tusks, Siberia.

The walrus has played a prominent role in the cultures of many indigenous Arctic peoples, who have hunted the walrus for its meat, fat, skin, tusks and bone. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the walrus was the object of heavy commercial exploitation for blubber and ivory and its numbers declined rapidly. Its global population has since rebounded, though the Atlantic and Laptev populations remain fragmented and at historically depressed levels.



Written by morethangray

December 8, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Posted in thoughts, videos

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. i had no idea walruses could be trained.


    December 15, 2008 at 1:05 am

    • yeah…a lot of animals can be trained. i saw a woman on the uc berkeley campus clicker training the squirrels.

      one trick that seems to work relatively well is to identify the animal’s most beloved thing, then withhold it until they do what you want. it’s that whole “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free” cliche all over again.


      December 17, 2008 at 1:28 pm

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