Monday, January 5, 2009

Walrus reproduction studied in CA

Arctic ice floes are shrinking because of global warming, which means the numbers of walruses could decrease. That possibility makes the breeding behavior of Jocko and his two female friends, who live at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, fascinating to scientists - to the point that one researcher is creating an artificial vagina to entice the 2,200-pound Pacific walrus into sexual acts that can be measured and quantified. "This would be the first semen sample out of a walrus in the wild or captivity," said Holley Muraco, a specialist in marine mammal reproduction who has constructed similar body parts for horses, cows and pigs. She said the dramatic changes likely to occur in the Arctic would affect walrus breeding, an obscure activity about which little is known, partly because it happens underwater and partly because Pacific walruses live in a remote part of the world. "It's extremely mysterious," Muraco said. "They're very inaccessible. But we're able to study the Six Flags walruses so intimately, and they participate so fully, that we can apply that science to wild animals if we need to." If researchers can understand and demystify walrus sex, their findings will shed light on how environmental change can influence the conditions that hurt or help breeding. Source: SF Chronicle

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