Mitik is the name given to a 234-pound 15-week-old orphaned walrus rescued from the open ocean off Alaska in early October. The walrus calf was transported aboard a FedEx cargo jet, accompanied by a veterinarian and a handler, and delivered to the New York Aquarium, part of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and one only a handful of aquariums in the United States to exhibit walruses.
Then less than a month after Mitik’s arrival, the aquarium, located in Brooklyn just off the Coney Island Boardwalk, was swamped by the storm surge from “superstorm” Sandy. The floodwaters knocked out the aquarium’s electrical transformers and damaged its electrical distribution system and mechanical equipment, rendering emergency generators useless. It also ruined the pumps and motors that operate critical life support systems for the entire collection of 12,000 fish and marine mammals, including oxygenation, filtration and heat.
Mitik, however, was fine. When Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the aquarium, waded through two feet deep water to the holding area where Miik was housed, he found the area awash in ocean water. “There’s Mitik swimming around in the surge and vocalizing like ‘Hey, this is great,’ ” Mr. Dohlin said.
The aquarium staff, many of whose houses had also been seriously damaged by the storm, worked around the clock to keep the aquarium to pump water out of the basements and get emergency generators up and running. To keep the fish tanks oxygenated, the aquarium staff placed oxygen tanks in the fish tanks which were opened slightly to release oxygen. The employees had to continually check the oxygen levels with meters to make sure that the tanks got enough oxygen in the water, but no too much. By the Friday after the storm, emergency generators were brought on-line to power the aquarium’s filtration and heating systems.
Remarkably, despite the considerable damage to the equipment at the six building, 14-acre aquarium complex, the only casualties among its marine life were about 150 koi carp, in temporary holding pools outside the aquarium, as their exhibit was being renovated. The surge knocked those pools over, and the freshwater koi could not be saved.