Sonja the Walrus Cause of Death Determined

An independent veterinary necropsy has determined that Marineland’s beloved walrus, Sonja, died following the sudden rupture of a very rare abdominal aneurysm.
It appears likely that Sonja was born with this rare condition.

Throughout her life Sonja received regular veterinary checkups and was under veterinary care at the time she passed away.
The nature and location of the aneurysm made it effectively impossible to detect and without any realistic method of treatment following a rupture.

Sadly, major emergency invasive surgery was never an option for Sonja given the nature and location of the aneurysm or its sudden rupture in a walrus weighing almost two thousand pounds.
Word of her death struck the park community hard, both the marine mammal care team and those visitors to Marineland that have enjoyed spending time with and learning from Sonja.

Marineland would like to thank kind members of the public who have expressed their condolences to our marine mammal team and who have sent their best wishes and continued health to all the park’s cherished residents.

Pursuant to the strict new Ontario Marine Mammal Regulations, a full report regarding Sonja’s death is being forwarded to the Marineland Animal Care Committee for its review.

Sonja the Walrus

Sonja the Walrus

Marineland Canada: Demonstrating A Commitment to Walrus Care Since 2001

Last week Marineland lost Sonja, who was the first walrus to relocate to Marineland. We’ve received many emails and Facebook messages from members of the public expressing their condolences for Sonja’s loss and asking questions about walruses at Marineland.

Our marine mammal care team appreciates the expressions of condolences and support from the public during this difficult time for them.

We would like to assure members of the public that Zeus, Apollo, Buttercup and Smooshi continue to thrive, due to the high quality care and enrichment they receive from dedicated members of the marine mammal care team and the veterinary staff that maintain their health.

While we await the results of Sonja’s necropsy, we are paying additional attention to the remaining walruses and continue to be prepared to take early intervention steps, should any of their health situations change.

Marineland has been home to walruses since 2001.

The economic fallout that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union made Russia a very challenging place to find the resources necessary to properly care for the many orphaned walruses rescued. It is believed Marineland’s walruses lost their mothers to poaching prior to being rescued. Many were in poor health when saved from the wild, and sadly continued to be as resource challenged organizations in Russia fought to save their lives.

Each of the walruses to come to Marineland was less than a year old when they arrived. Without human intervention, followed by Marineland’s care and compassion, each of these walruses is likely to have starved in the wild or been poached, just as their mothers likely were. Even with human intervention, the survival rate for orphaned walruses that are rescued is very low, due to the long term health implications this traumatic experience causes, for a range of reasons.

In addition to accepting beluga whales from a former Soviet defense program, Marineland felt a strong desire to help these orphaned walruses experience a better quality of life and has always been prepared to fight hard to save the lives of orphaned animals.

Sonja came to Canada from the renowned Moscow Zoo, a national institution in Russia with a strong international reputation, in 2001.

Sonja was joined by Zeus and Apollo two months after arriving at Marineland. Each came to the park in good health and provided Marineland’s marine mammal care team and veterinary staff with the opportunity to apply practical learning and develop best practices for the care of walruses at Marineland.

In 2002, Pandora, Buttercup and Buddy were brought to Marineland, and unlike Sonja, Zeus and Apollo, they were not in good health when rescued. Buddy was in such poor shape, Buddy’s previous owner surrendered Buddy to Marineland in the hopes that we could rehabilitate the walrus. Out of options in Russia, Marineland was seen as Buddy’s last and best chance for survival. We did everything we could.

Sadly, Buddy was too sick to be saved and after months of extensive efforts by Marineland’s marine mammal care team and our veterinary staff, we were unable to restore Buddy’s health. Pandora survived for nearly six years before passing away.

Marineland’s mammal care team was deeply impacted by Buddy’s passing. Buddy was the first walrus to pass away at Marineland. Mindful of the overwhelming numbers of orphaned walruses in Russia, Marineland brought over Smooshi and Azul in 2004, in an effort to provide a better future for each.

Our team was determined to take the lessons learned from caring for Buddy, during Buddy’s short and difficult life, and aware how much improved Buddy’s quality of life was here, where appropriate food, clean water, daily care and veterinary support was available.

Azul faced similar health challenges that predated being rescued and cared for in Russia, and sadly died within a year of coming to Marineland, after extensive marine mammal care team intervention and veterinary support.

While Azul, Buddy and Pandora experienced difficult health situations directly as a result of poaching rendering them orphans, Marineland’s staff gave each of these walruses the high degree of care, compassion, love and support that the public have come to expect from Marineland.

The lessons our team learned during these extraordinary times have directly contributed to Sonja, Zeus, Apollo, Buttercup and Smooshi thriving in the enriching environment Marineland provides for them. Sonja was the first walrus to pass away at the park in nearly ten years.

Buttercup, Smooshi, Apollo

Buttercup, Smooshi, Apollo

Zeus

Zeus

Smooshi

Smooshi

Apollo

Apollo

Accentuate the Positive…

 A look at Positive Reinforcement Reward System

 

After presentations, Marineland trainers love answering guest’s questions. The most common is, “how do you train your marine mammals?”

The trainers use a healthy and successful training technique called Positive Reinforcement Reward System.  This system respects the animal by using positive reinforcement, it never allows for punishment.

How does the positive reinforcement reward system work?

Every time an animal performs a behavior correctly the trainer blows a whistle signaling a perfect performance and the animal is rewarded. The animal is never punished for performing a behavior incorrectly; the trainer simply repeats the cue to encourage the animal to try again.

What rewards are used for positive reinforcement?

The reinforcement can be food, a tongue tickle, a back scratch, a belly rub or playtime where large rings and balls are placed in the pool.  While food is a reinforcement used, it is important to note that the animals receive all the food that they require to meet their dietary needs whether they perform the requested behavior or not.

 

Kelly & Apollo

A walrus getting a well-deserved back scratch

Beluga Playtime 2

A beluga enjoying playtime with a ball

What types of behaviours do the animals learn?

The trainers teach the animals a variety of behaviours like waving hello or crunching out a few sit-ups. But, there is another important set of behaviours the animals perform called “husbandry” behaviours. These actions help our veterinarians and marine mammal staff to monitor and maintain the health of the animals.

How long does training take?

Basic behaviours require a few months of training, elaborate behaviours require about two years of training. The process helps keep the animals mentally sharp and physically fit. Some learn faster than others and each animal has a unique style.

IMGP1907

A beluga and trainer working together

DID YOU KNOW?… AMAZING WALRUS FACT

Male walruses and some female walruses have special air sacs in their necks that hold air (up to 50 litres) allowing them to keep their heads above water for extended periods of time – they can even sleep this way. Amazing!

The males also use the air sacs to produce a characteristic bell-like sound when courting female walruses.

The first picture shows Zeus without inflated air sacs and the second picture shows Zeus with inflated air sacs.

Zeus2Zeus Air Sac2

 

 

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Visit One of Ontario’s Favourite Destinations

Waking up to another beautiful day in Niagara Falls! The whales and the dolphins have had their breakfasts! So have the walruses and the sea lions. Everybody here is ready for you to drop by for the day to one of Ontario’s favourite destinations. Our new show is fabulous!

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