June 29, 2015
Beloved Male Walrus, Sivuqaq, Passes Away
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom staff are mourning the passing on Sunday of their beloved Sivuqaq, the park’s 21-year-old male Pacific walrus from heart failure. His enormous presence left an everlasting mark on park staff and guests alike.
“We are devastated and heartbroken as Sivuqaq was loved by so many,” said Don McCoy, park president. “He was practically an institution here, with a great many fans following him and his gregarious and irresistible personality. Our marine mammal staff is particularly affected since they truly spend most of their waking hours caring for these complex animals that require unique and dedicated care.”
The park acquired four orphaned walrus calves in 1994, recovered from a federally authorized Native Alaskan subsistence program near Gambell, Alaska on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. At the time, the park was one of only a few locations in the country authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take in and care for beached and stranded Pacific walrus calves.
The calves, consisting of the lone male Sivuqaq (the ancient Yupik name for the village of Gambell), and three females Uquq, Siku and Qiluk, were just a few months old when they were transferred to the park. Staff bottle-fed and cared for the engaging young calves behind the scenes until they debuted in Spring 1995 at the Walrus Experience.
Known worldwide through his recorded vocalizations, Sivuqaq starred in the 2004 feature film, “50 First Dates” starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, playing “Jocko” the walrus. He was also the voice for several creature characters in “Lord of the Rings” series, “Hobbit” series and “Jurassic Park.” With a repertoire of over 20 different vocals, and hundreds of learned and trained behaviors, Sivuqaq demonstrated an intelligence that scientists could not have known about walruses, and hence, he contributed greatly to scientific study of Pacific walruses, one of the least-known and least-studied marine mammals in the world.
A necropsy performed today showed congestive heart failure pending further testing. The life expectancy of the Pacific walrus is 16 to 30 years.
“Words cannot describe the loss we feel,” said Dianne Cameron, marine mammal manager. “We are grateful to have shared his life with him. He touched many people and was loved enormously. We celebrate his life and continue to love and care for Uquq and Siku.”
Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) are one of two recognized subspecies of walruses (Atlantic and Pacific), only the Pacific walrus can be found in U.S. waters, inhabiting the Bering, Chukchi and Laptev seas. Two of the most distinctive features of the walruses’ appearance are their whiskers (called vibrissae) and tusks. Walruses have 400 to 700 vibrissae, which are extremely sensitive and tactile. The tusks are used for social dominance, protection, and used to haul out onto ice or rocky shores.