Beaked whale loses fight for survival

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642
Director, Media Relations, University Relations
Posted: Aug 31, 2010

The Blainville’s beaked whale, which was rescued off Maui on August 16, died at 1:50 p.m. Sunday at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility (HCRF). Beaked whales are deep water swimmers that are rarely seen and are very under-studied. Less than 20 have ever been held in captivity and none have survived long enough to be returned to its natural habitat.

“I was saddened to hear that the whale lost his fight despite the care and attention given to him by UH Hilo’s HCRF staff and the many volunteers,” Chancellor Donald Straney said. “This underscores how important it is for us to study ocean animals that live so close to us. There is so much more to learn about how they live and how to keep them well.”

The time the whale spent at the facility, however, gave researchers the opportunity to learn more about the species and how to care for it in captivity, such as developing a method to hand feed the animal, which has rarely been done successfully.

“We certainly know more now than we did before the whale was brought to the facility, and hopefully that knowledge will improve the chances of future animals brought in for rehabilitation, ” said UH Hilo’s HCRF Director Dr. Jason Turner. “At the same time, our students who participated in this effort received hands-on experience unmatched anywhere in the world.”

Although the animal remained in “stable, but guarded condition” for much of its time at the facility, its medical problems, which were not fully known, proved too much to overcome. The results of a necropsy indicated that the 1,800 pound, 11-and-a-half-foot sub adult male suffered from moderate pneumonia, severe gastrointestinal disease, kidney disease and a deteriorating body condition.

“If the animal could have survived on the love and heartfelt effort that our volunteers put into caring for him, he’d still be alive today,” said UH Hilo’s HCRF Assistant Director Jennifer Turner. “We even had people driving in from Kona each day to work the 12 a.m. – 4 a.m. shift so that we could provide 24-7 care. So we were all devastated when he passed away.”

UH Hilo’s HCRF is located at the UH Hilo Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center (PACRC) in Keaukaha and only one of three in the entire country operated by a university.