Yesterday morning, a beached false killer whale was spotted stranded and in distress along North Chesterman beach near Tofino. The male calf, which is estimated to be between four to six weeks old, is in poor condition with several laceration and wounds along his body, likely from stranding. As Canada’s only team of professional rescue staff readily available to save stranded cetaceans, Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre was brought in to save the distressed false killer whale.
The calf was transported to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre for immediate treatment. The Rescue Centre’s team, led by Aquarium head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena, is working around-the-clock to provide critical care.
The team was able to provide this immediate care due to its 50+ years of marine mammal rescue experience. This expertise is only made possible through its work with the cetaceans in our care.
Now the hard work has begun to save the whale. The biggest challenges lie within the first 24 hours as the calf is very young, and his teeth have not erupted yet which indicates that he was still nursing from his mother. Although the transport yesterday went well, the whale is in critical condition, and the rescue staff noticed some worrying dips in his heart rate and respiration last evening. The whale has been started on treatment and diagnostic tests. The hope is that he begins to recover and slowly gain weight.
It took hours of hard work and a team effort to rescue the stranded cetacean from the beach. Staff from the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the District of Tofino bylaw enforcement and Parks Canada worked together with officers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to support the calf until the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre team could arrive to begin treatment.
Historically, stranded cetaceans have had a low chance of survival. It’s always touch-and-go with young marine mammals who have become separated from their mothers, and rescuing a false killer whale is a new experience — very few veterinarians and other professionals around-the-world have experience rehabilitating stranded false killer whale calves.
A member of the dolphin family, the false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) is a distinct species from the more commonly known killer whale (Orcinus orca). Globally widespread, but locally uncommon, false killer whales are an open ocean species found in the tropics in all oceans of the world, and only occasionally spotted in B.C. waters.