Baby dolphin dies at aquarium whale struggles to live

September 15, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Sun Staff Writer

A baby dolphin found stranded early Tuesday on the Virginia coast died yesterday afternoon at the National Aquarium's marine animal hospital, but staff members and volunteers were still trying to save the life of a newborn whale rescued nearby the previous evening.

The Atlantic bottlenose dolphin and the little whale -- orphaned or separated from their mothers -- were found at a state park near Virginia Beach, retrieved by the Virginia Marine Science Museum and flown by Coast Guard helicopter to Baltimore on Tuesday.

The coincidence of two young marine mammals being stranded so close together "raised questions of offshore fisheries that could have injured or taken the mothers," said aquarium veterinarian Brent R. Whitaker, adding that information about the animals was being sent to the National Marine Fisheries.

Dr. Whitaker said the female dolphin, about 4 feet long and 100 pounds, likely was born between late spring and midsummer. It was very sick and dehydrated from lack of nutrition, evidence that it had been separated from the mother for a while.

The whale calf, believed to be just a week or two past birth, is a little over 4 feet long, weighs about 75 pounds and has two tiny teeth appearing in the back of its mouth. It is too young to determine whether it is a dwarf pygmy sperm whale or a pygmy sperm whale, Dr. Whitaker said.

Yesterday, volunteers were maintaining a round-the-clock vigil in knee-deep water, administering fluids to the whale and helping it swim during brief intervals away from a supporting sling. Beginning last night, it was to be fed a modified milk formula developed for dolphins.

Dr. Whitaker said the animal faced long odds against survival, and was considered to be in critical condition because of its total dependence on human support.

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