New patient in Inky's pool

May 06, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

OCEAN CITY -- A baby harbor porpoise that washed ashore early yesterday was rescued by residents and flown by Coast Guard helicopter to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where it was in critical condition last night.

The injured porpoise, which is estimated to be between 3 months and 5 months old, was found stranded on the beach by a sanitation worker, and several nearby residents came to its aid.

"I looked out my front window and saw it laying there, flopping around," said John Rehak who, with a friend, Stacy London, stayed with the porpoise while police were summoned.

Coast Guard and state officials said strandings of sea mammals are a rare event at the resort, and it was even more unusual to find a creature so young.

The porpoise, thought to be a female, is about 3 feet long and 30 pounds. The porpoise was taken first to the boatyard of the Maryland Natural Resources Police, where authorities contacted the National Aquarium for advice.

"We moved it to the boathouse to keep it away from people and out of the sun," said Officer J. W. Sweitzer, who drove the animal to the Coast Guard station in downtown Ocean City accompanied by Mr. Rehak and Ms. London.

Mr. Rehak, a co-owner of Ocean City's WXRS-FM (X-107) radio station and the Scandals nightclub, cradled the animal -- bleeding from what appeared to be fish bites and a head injury -- in his arms until the helicopter landed.

Wrapped in wet towels to keep it cool and moist, the porpoise was loaded aboard for the 45-minute flight and arrived in Baltimore shortly after noon.

Aquarium workers put the porpoise in the marine animal hospital's quarantine pool -- vacated just six hours earlier by Inky, a young pygmy sperm whale that had been housed there since Thanksgiving.

The whale -- described as "near death" when she arrived from New Jersey, with infections and what was later found to be a stomach blockage from swallowed plastic trash -- was flown to the Marineland park near St. Augustine, Fla., to be prepared for return to the wild in a few weeks.

Inky became a symbol to the aquarium of the dangers of ocean pollution, and is expected to become the first of her deep-water species to be rescued critically ill from a beach stranding, nursed back to health and returned to the wild.

Aquarium workers barely had time to scrub and disinfect the pool yesterday morning before the arrival of the new patient, whose fate was uncertain last night.

Chris Andrews, the aquarium's director of husbandry and operations, said the first night would be the most critical.

"At this stage, there's only so much you can do," Dr. Andrews said. "We have to let it calm down. The next 12 to 24 hours will probably determine which direction it will go in.

"We've got to stabilize it; then we can study its condition in a little more detail."

It was not clear yesterday how the animal had become separated from its mother.

Coast Guard Senior Chief Bob Bennington speculated that weather may have been a factor.

"I think it lost its mother in that storm [Wednesday] night," he said -- a northeaster with winds of up to 35 mph.

The porpoise was being treated with antibiotics, and the 100,000-gallon quarantine hospital pool was filled only to a shallow depth while the animal's condition was being monitored through the night.

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