ORLANDO, Fla. -- Our Walrus Up-Close Tour at SeaWorld Orlando was almost the experience that wasn't. After beginning the tour on an overcast August afternoon, my group was disappointed to find out that thunderstorms prevented the experience from going further.
SeaWorld offered a tour later in the day for those of us who could attend. If a SeaWorld Tour is canceled, guests can get a refund or select another tour date/time. After rushing across the park to get to Wild Arctic by 3 p.m., I learned that the words "Code Purple" meant "Game Over" for tours -- the words indicate that thunderstorms, and particularly lightning, are in the area and SeaWorld staff are not allowed outdoors.
But my walrus tour was kismet, and in September, I finally got my chance to interact with the massive pinnipeds.
My first tour wasn't a complete success, but since Code Purple trapped us indoors, my group did get an in-depth look at the walruses' feeding and "enrichment," or training.
At the Wild Arctic kitchen, Spencer Aldridge, an instructor in SeaWorld Orlando's animal programs department, as well as Lauren Fletcher and Kelly Trotto, senior keepers at SeaWorld Orlando, gave us the lowdown on the four walruses in Wild Arctic: Garfield (male), Kaboodle (female), Ginger (female) and AKU (male). Garfield and Kaboodle are a mated pair -- Trotto said Garfield and Kaboodle had "a special connection right out of the gate" -- that gave birth to Ginger, while AKU is a rescued orphan from Alaska. There is a fifth walrus at SeaWorld Orlando, but Slowpoke (a female) resides at the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium.
Aldridge explained that about 420 pounds of seafood are used every day at Wild Arctic.
The walruses' diet consists of clams, herring, capelin and squid -- although if you try to feed Kaboodle squid, she'll spit it right back at you, Trotto said.
For my second tour, Angela Casagrande, an instructor in SeaWorld Orlando's animal programs department, served as my tour guide.
She led me to an outdoor area behind the walruses' enclosure, where these pinnipeds are taken for enrichment, animal husbandry and sunbathing.
I waited outside a gate as Fletcher collected Kaboodle and brought her into the larger room.
My first reaction: This is one enormous female.
Kaboodle and I got to know each other a little better during feeding time. As I fed Kaboodle, Fletcher said the walrus used her vibrissae (the long stiff hairs growing around her mouth) to touch my hand to gain more information about me. And I gained some insight about Kaboodle when I fed her: She doesn't like ice cubes.
Kaboodle had to work off some of her fishy treats by demonstrating behaviors. I held out a basketball and a piece of plastic; she chose the plastic. Fletcher asked Kaboodle to return it, and she obliged.
Before the tour ended, I got to see the baby walruses at play from a viewing room that overlooked what was formerly the polar bear room. Ginger and AKU splashed around in a small pool until two keepers entered the room for enrichment. I watched as the two were rewarded for correctly demonstrating behaviors.
The Walrus Up-Close Tour accommodates up to 12 people and runs daily. Prices start at $30 and vary depending on season and day. For more information call (407) 545-5550 or visit seaworld.com/orlando.
Travel on 11/04/2018
Print Headline: Walruses take stage at SeaWorld