Amazing animal:1,100 kilos of grace and charm

Amazing animal:1,100 kilos of grace and charm

On November 24, Walrus Day is celebrated in Russia. For obvious reasons, the Primorsky Aquarium’s star and Russia’s most famous walrus – Misha – cannot be interviewed, that is why one of his trainers, Mikhail Porshin, has told us about this whiskered crowd-pleaser.

Misha the walrus is an astonishing combination of a huge body mass with agility and grace. According to his trainer, because of the animal’s hefty weight of 1,100 kilos a false impression is created that the walrus is clumsy and slow. Actually, he is not like that at all – despite his large size, the walrus is fairly lissome both in water and on land, and besides, the flippered star is lightning-quick in his reactions. 

“Misha is an amazing animal, and in all aspects: he is rather sharp-witted, especially when trying to avoid something or to do things halfway through a training session. He is a strong-willed individual but he often behaves like a big, capricious child,” said Mikhail Porshin. “The most essential point in our interaction was to build a rapport and a proper strategy. You certainly should not act like a boss – it does not work with Misha. If Misha were a human, he would be a good, understanding friend: Misha clearly understands what kind of people we – Anton, his second trainer, and I – are and behaves differently toward us: when with me, he is more disciplined and consistently works on the program, and with Anton he can frolic.”

Though Misha is ten years old, he still keeps on learning and even gets pleasure from this process. All the behaviours Misha carries out at training sessions and performances are based on his natural abilities, and his trainers say that the walrus can do everything without them.

“For instance, blowing a fountain of water or inflating balloons, Misha displays walruses’ ability to excavate tasty clams from the bottom sediments using powerful water jets,” explained Mikhail Porshin.  “Doing sit-ups is their natural skill as well: lying on their rookery beach, walruses, of course, sit up slightly to “assess the situation” or just to watch a seagull flying by. Training sessions with Misha are held, first of all, to maintain his health and wellness but they should also be interesting for our walrus – it is his character. To keep Misha alert and alive, during training sessions and demonstrations of his skills we change the sequence of performed behaviours, give up something old and offer something new.”

Sessions in the enclosure where all new behaviours are taught can sometimes be very different from sessions at the Dolphinarium. “At home” the walrus focuses his attention only on the trainer but in the aquatic stadium there are a lot of things that distract him: from music to bright clothes or sudden movements of people in the front row. The absence of spectators in the Dolphinarium is another perfect reason for the walrus to get distracted from the program and to return to his routine activities.

“Misha’s repertoire includes several short and long programs and, to a large extent, he decides on his own which of them to demonstrate,” said Mikhail Porshin. “Spending most of our time with Misha, we have learned to understand his mood.  How?  By multiple signs: from the position he sleeps in to the manner in which he heads for the aquatic stadium. We have as many as 10 meters – the distance between Misha’s enclosure and the stadium pool – to figure out what kind of performance this will be.”