Rescued pygmy sperm whale dies at aquarium

October 09, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

A sick female pygmy sperm whale died yesterday morning at the National Aquarium in Baltimore -- 16 hours after being brought to the city to be nursed back to health.

The 670-pound whale, discovered with her calf nearly two weeks ago on a beach in Virginia, was brought to the aquarium Tuesday after 12 days at Virginia Marine Science Museum in Virginia Beach.

Dr. Brent Whitaker, the aquarium's staff veterinarian, said the whale died about 5: 30 a.m. yesterday, not long after a short period of brisk swimming in the aquarium's isolation tank, after a seven-hour period of inactivity.

The results of an autopsy -- known as a necropsy -- were unavailable. Officials thought a uterine disorder might have caused the whale to go onto the beach at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Sept. 26, but Whitaker said tests showed that was unlikely.

"We don't have the indication, but we know something was wrong because the mother and calf came ashore," Whitaker said.

Aquarium scientists were cautiously optimistic about the whale, which survived out of the sea for nearly two weeks, though its calf died Oct. 4. But cetaceans -- the class of animals to which pygmy sperm whale belongs -- have a chance of survival in captivity of only one in 10, and the aquarium's rescue of Inky in 1994 was the only known rehabilitation of a pygmy sperm whale.

"This animal did give us hope, but we did know better," Whitaker said. "If you play the odds, they're against you."

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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