Aquarium hopes to nurse whale back to health Mammal possibly suffering effects of tough pregnancy

October 08, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

A stranded female pygmy sperm whale possibly suffering from the after-effects of a difficult pregnancy arrived yesterday afternoon at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where mammologists hope to nurse her back to health.

The 670-pound whale came to the aquarium by truck after a one-hour flight from Virginia Beach, where the whale stayed at the Virginia Marine Science Museum for nearly 12 days after being found by a U.S. park ranger on a nearby beach.

David Schofield, coordinator for the Marine Animal Rescue Program at the aquarium, said that the whale was disoriented and that volunteers needed to keep her from constantly swimming into the walls of the aquarium's isolation tank.

"She's been kicking around, but she's not real strong," he said.

Schofield said the whale would be fed squid and electrolytes and receive "around the clock" care during her first few days at the aquarium, as she did at the museum, where she was taken after she and her calf were found Sept. 26 on the beach at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Officials at the museum and the aquarium said the cause of the whale's illness hasn't been determined.

Tests in Virginia to see if the whale had swallowed plastic proved negative, but officials at both facilities said that the calf was fairly young and that the mother might have been suffering from a uterine disorder resulting from a difficult pregnancy.

Schofield said the whale also had abrasions that might give a clue to her problem. He said the whale's resilience has been encouraging, as many stranded whales live less than a week in rehabilitation facilities.

"They are usually so sick that there's little hope for rehabilitation," Schofield said. "That's a good sign. But I try not to get excited about an animal's health until it sails from a boat."

The calf died Saturday and, according to Deb Perry at the museum, mammologists there believethat it suffered from malnutrition after not getting enough milk from its mother. Unlike the Virginia museum, the aquarium has facilities for long-term rehabilitation. Under normal circumstances, the whale would have been brought to Baltimore sooner.

But the aquarium's isolation tank was being used by Mack, a harp seal released into its seal exhibit last weekend after it was rescued in April from Assateague Island Beach south of Ocean City.

The whale, which has not been given a name, is the 11th rescued animal in 1997 to be brought to the aquarium, which gets 15 to 20 rescued marine animals per year, including whales, turtles and seals, according to Marla Gregg, an aquarium spokeswoman.

The last pygmy sperm whale at the facility was Inky, discovered on a New Jersey beach on Thanksgiving 1993 and released off the Florida coast in June 1994.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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