Akituusaq, the husky two-year-old Pacific walrus who had the heart of a borough wrapped around his diminutive flippers, died on Sept. 1 from complications from pneumonia.
Born at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Akituusaq immediately became a media darling, his every splash chronicled by the local and national media.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved walrus Akituusaq and are proud of the exemplary care that our entire staff provided during this critical time,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, the Aquarium’s director. “We know Brooklyn was proud of Akituusaq and many loved him. This is a loss to the whole community.”
During the past few days, Akituusaq had been under special care by veterinarians from the Wildlife Conservation Society, which oversees the aquarium. The little walrus received round-the-clock attention, the aquarium said.
Akituusaq (ah-kee-TOO-sack), which means “gift given in return” in the native Alaskan Yupik language, received his name from a contest that generated over 9,000 votes from across the country.
Born June 12, 2007, Akituusaq was introduced to the public a few months later, and a nationwide love affair began. His creation alone was news, as walrus births in aquariums are considered very rare, with only five surviving to one year of age, the aquarium said. He was the first Pacific walrus baby born in captivity in the aquarium’s 113-year history, and just the 10th born in North America since 1968.
At birth, the precious pinniped weighed 115 pounds, and he grew to 320 pounds in his short 26-month life. “Professionally speaking, he’s one of the cutest babies I’ve ever seen,” remarked Paul Calle, senior veterinarian at the Wildlife Conservation Society at the time of Akituusaq’s birth. In the wild, walruses can live up to 50 years and weigh 4,000 pounds.
Borough President Marty Markowitz said the passing was a loss for animal lovers, the borough, and the city. “May Akituusaq’s version of heaven provide nothing but calm waters, plentiful food and countless walrus friends,” he said.
Akituusaq was born to first-time mother, Kulusiq, and the late Ayveq, an orphaned Alaskan calf who eventually became the harem leader of the aquarium’s walruses. He died last year at the age of 14.
Akituusaq seemed to inherit his sire’s spirit along with his penchant for public relations: Ayveq was known to wave and whistle at passersby, and his son was certainly never camera shy, happily flashing his short tusks to his legion of admirers.
©2009 Community News Group
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