Mammalogists at the National Aquarium in Baltimore say the health of a young pilot whale found stranded last week near Chincoteague, Va., is improving.
David Schofield, aquarium mammalogist caring for the animal, said antibiotic treatments have helped the 365-pound, 7-foot-long whale overcome a severe gastro-intestinal infection. But the animal, being kept in a "hospital" pool out of public view, still has a long way to go, he said.
"We've jumped over one hurdle, but we still have three or four more to go," Mr. Schofield said.
The long-finned pilot whale still suffers from a respirator infection and a virus, he said. It was flown from Virginia to Baltimore-Washington International Airport July 7 in a Coast Guard cargo plane.
Mr. Schofield and his colleagues think the animal is about 18 months old -- young enough to exhibit a suckling reaction when a person puts a finger near its mouth. They determined yesterday that the whale is a male instead of a female as they had thought originally.
The whale is now eating about 8,000 calories worth of food each day -- less than half what a pilot whale in the wild would require.
It is being fed raw squid and a squid "milkshake," Mr. Schofield said. The shake contains squid and is fortified with vitamins, fats and antibiotics and other supplements.
"He's still very much undernourished," Mr. Schofield said.
Mr. Schofield praised the corps of about 25 volunteers that is helping keep a 24-hour watch on the whale. The volunteers include teachers, engineers, a day care worker and others. Some of them come to the aquarium at midnight and stay until 4 a.m., Mr. Schofield said.
Aquarium staff have raised the water level in the hospital pool from 3 feet to 7 feet after noticing that the whale is more "confident" in the water. "He's still very passive," said aquarium spokeswoman Amy Woodworth.
Mr. Schofield said it could be more than a year before the whale is able return to the wild -- if it survives that long.