Van. Aquarium works to save False Killer Whale
A false killer whale calf, which stranded in the fog on North Chesterman beach near Tofino yesterday morning, ended his long day of rescue and transport at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver, where veterinarians and team members worked overnight to keep him alive.
As Canada’s only team of professional rescue staff readily available to save stranded cetaceans, Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre was brought in from Vancouver to save the distressed false killer whale. The Rescue Centre’s team, led by Aquarium head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena, is working around-the-clock to provide critical care to the distressed cetacean. The team is able to provide this immediate care due to its 50+ years of marine mammal rescue experience.
“Now the hard work begins to save this false killer whale,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, Vancouver Aquarium head veterinarian. “The transport went well but he is in critical condition and there were some worrying dips in his heart rate and respiration last night. We’ve started treatment and have conducted diagnostic tests. The hope is that he begins to recover and slowly gain weight.”
The male calf, which Dr. Haulena estimates to be four to six weeks old, is in poor condition with several lacerations and wounds along his body, likely from stranding. He is too weak to swim on his own; members of the Aquarium’s rescue team first held him in their arms in a pool then transferred him to a specially designed floating sling that supports his weight. Treatment — including fluids, antibiotics and formula designed just for marine mammals — has already begun.
It took a team effort to rescue the cetacean from the beach. Staff from the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the District of Tofino bylaw enforcement and Parks Canada worked together with officers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to support him until the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre team could arrive to begin treatment and transport.
“The biggest hurdles are getting him to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre for critical care and the first 24 hours,” said Dr. Haulena. “He’s very young, his teeth haven’t erupted which indicates he was still nursing from his mother. Historically, stranded cetaceans have had a low chance of survival. It’s always touch-and-go with young marine mammals who have become separated from their mothers, and rescuing a false killer whale is a new experience for us — very few veterinarians and other professionals around-the-world have experience rehabilitating stranded false killer whale calves.”
A member of the dolphin family, the false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) is a distinct species from the more commonly known killer whale (Orcinus orca). Globally widespread, but locally uncommon, false killer whales are an open ocean species found in the tropics in all oceans of the world, and only occasionally spotted in B.C. waters.
For now, the team is focused on the animal’s recovery. “We will continue to provide critical care in the hope that he improves,” said Dr. Haulena. “It is because of the team’s experience with cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium that the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is the only marine mammal rescue facility in Canada with the expertise to save whales and dolphins. It’s the only real hope for stranded marine mammals.”
The Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, non-profit society and does not receive ongoing funds for rescue efforts such as this one. To support the efforts of the Rescue Centre, please visit www.vanaqua.org/mmr.