Walruses dine on gourmet mussels in Washington zoo

STORY: These teenage walruses are feasting on gourmet mussels and clams

as the settle into their new home at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Location: Tacoma, Washington

(Sheriden Ploof / Assistant curator, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium)

"These are restaurant quality mussels. They're eating very well, yes. We go through about 16,000 pounds of clam a year just for walruses alone. It's a lot of clam."

Six-year-old Balzak and Lakina are half-siblings born just two weeks apart

Initially trained in a French-speaking province of Canada

both walruses are bilingual when it comes to understanding and responding to commands

Walruses are considered vulnerable but not endangered

There are only 14 walruses in human care throughout the United States

(Malia Somerville / Curator of marine mammals and birds, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium)

"Their main threat is climate change. The impact that climate change has on walruses is it's reducing free flowing ice floes, which is where they would haul out to rest and which also provides habitat for their food items. So they're having to swim further to find haul out places, swim further to get to their food."

Balzak and Lakina are also cared for by a veterinary team

which comes with a dental perk – caps for their tusks to promote good health

"So right now, we're just looking inside his mouth and it looks nice and pink.// Their tusks lack enamel or have very little enamel, so that makes them prone to developing wear very easily. And because they can get wear on them, they can get an infection. And so we want to make sure we protect the ends of the tusks. And this happens with wild walrus as well. They just don't have the dentist to put on their caps."

Once the walruses are old enough to breed, they may be relocated to meet suitable partners

“Once they are able to reproduce, we might, they might go to meet other walruses so that they can have children of their own. We work cooperatively with the Walrus Consortium. Those are the other facilities that have walrus in the United States to decide who would make good families and good partners.”