Call it a match made in Marineland. A trainer at the Niagara Falls, Ont., amusement park has captured the affections of a 365-kilogram, five-year-old female walrus.
Smooshi has been smitten with trainer Phil Demers since arriving at Marineland from Russia about four years ago.
It was hisjob to makethe transition to her new home a comfortable one and he won the animal'sheart by removing her from a medical exam room when she became frightened.
"She actually imprinted on me, so she recognizes my smell, my sounds,everything," Demers told CBC Newsworld on Sunday. "It's interesting in that shekind of sees me almost as a maternal figure, so it happened fairly immediately."
Smooshi follows Demers everywhere — whether or not he has a supply of fish — and hates for him to be out of her sight for even a moment.
"If I'm with other animals in the back, she is always attuned to where I am and tries to get my attention," he says.
She makes abarking sound if he'smaking the rounds without her, and although she gets along with all thetrainers, they know not toget too close when she's withher favourite.
Women in particularsometimesend up getting a gentle head butt, which Smooshi demonstratedwhena fellow trainermoved next toDemers during his interview.
"If you're a lady, you don't want to get between Smooshi and me," hesays. "She's real protective. She doesn't get terribly aggressive. It's not a dangerous situation, but she's very adamant that she doesn't want you to be between us, and she'll move you."
Many of Demers's friends and colleagues are intrigued by the mammalian mismatch.
Michael Noonan, professor of animal behaviour at Cansius College in Buffalo, N.Y., islooking at studying the relationship further.
"It warrants a study," says Demers. "We're an interesting pair."