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Point Defiance’s walrus E.T. dies after surgery

E.T. the walrus, an icon at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, died Thursday after undergoing surgery, officials said.

The 33-year-old Pacific walrus did not recover from anesthesia after a two-hour surgery to drain a bacteria-filled abscess on his pharyngeal pouch.

The pouch is part of the neck and communicates with the throat, helping male walruses float and to make breeding noises.

“We are extremely saddened by the loss of E.T., who was a well-loved member of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium family and a community icon who delighted generations of visitors,” Zoo Deputy Director John Houck said.

“He leaves a legacy of helping people learn about walruses and other Arctic mammals and the perils they face due to climate change.”

E.T. had “multiple medical issues,” said zoo head veterinarian Dr. Karen Wolf.

“He had been ill for many weeks with a serious bacterial infection,” Wolf said. “He had not eaten for 17 days, and he suffered from painful arthritis that made it difficult for him to haul out of the water.”

He went into cardiac arrest while under anesthesia Thursday, and experts weren’t able to revive him, Wolf said.

The abscess had caused significant swelling and discomfort for E.T., who has been sick and taken off exhibit periodically since last summer.

E.T.’s weight recently dropped from about 3,450 pounds to 2,750 pounds.

The geriatric walrus struggled with health problems for some time. He had arthritis, and in May 2014, was taken off exhibit for six weeks because of a serious gastrointestinal infection.

E.T. arrived in Tacoma in August 1982 from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where a group of oil workers spotted him wandering alone. They watched him walk 3 miles across Arctic tundra in search of his family, according to The News Tribune archives.

When E.T. remained on his own for days, they rescued him and named him after the extraterrestrial creature in Steven Spielberg’s movie. The walrus was dehydrated and weighed only 155 pounds when he was taken in by the Alaska Zoo and U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials.

Since Point Defiance had nearly completed its Rocky Shores exhibit, the zoo offered to care for E.T.

He was one of three walruses at the zoo. The others — Basilla and Joan — are two females brought to the zoo in 2006 in the hopes of breeding with E.T. There has not been successful breeding.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

stacia.glenn@thenewstribune.com

Honoring E.T.

Condolences and memories of E.T. can be shared on the zoo’s Facebook page, sent to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium staff at 5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma, WA 98407, or written on a banner provided at the zoo.

Donations in his honor can be made to the Point Defiance Zoo Society Dr. Holly Reed Conservations Fund online, or by calling 253-404-3651.

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