Rescued Pseudorca clings to life, shows signs of progress

Typical for a 2.5-month-old baby, Chester is teething and likes his gums rubbed. But Chester is no typical baby.

Chester is six feet long. The baby ‘false killer whale’ rescued from the surf at Chesterman Beach was clinging determinedly to life at press time, despite big odds – and the fact that there’s not a record of a Pseudorca infant surviving a stranding.

He has a great attitude, said his chief caregiver.

“I’m super pleased that he’s still fighting along with us, and incredibly proud of the team that brought him this far,” said Dr.

Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The orphaned cetacean hasn’t officially been named, but some around the aquarium have called him Chester, short for Chesterman Beach, the Tofino surf site where he was found, then cradled by rescuers in a beach towel sling for hours until staffers from the aquarium could transport him to Vancouver.

Others have tried to rescue beached Pseudorca calves without success – one off the Queensland coast of Australia, another in the Maldives.

There has been limited success in hand-raising the rare species of the Dolphin family in places like Hawaii, where a pod of 150 is considered endangered.

“I don’t think anyone’s been able to raise a stranded calf before,” said Haulena. “I’m superrooting for him. I’d love to see him (survive.)”

Little Chester is showing alertness.

“He continues to show increased interest in his surroundings. He’s able to float a little better out of his sling, his eyes are open and he’s soliciting contact,” Haulena said.

At this point, “Chester” as he has been casually nicknamed by some, enjoys teeth and gum rubs (his teeth are breaking through), and he plays with fish when it’s offered to him.

He has gained some weight – good, considering the dehydrated condition he was in, Haulena said.

“On the down side, it’s what we’d expect for a stranded cetacean. He can’t swim on his own – he’s extremely weak, he sinks and is unable to get to the surface,” he said.

“We do know that when they strand, it can take many weeks for them to swim on their own,” Haulena said.

“He’s still here and the fact that we’re still working with him is huge,” Haulena said.

The six-foot-long baby’s respirations have improved and his “listing” has decreased, although the staff at the aquarium were worried about pneumonia. “He’s still in very poor shape and still requires a long road ahead,” Haulena said.

Staff still don’t know what separated the unweaned calf from his cetacean mother – could have been predators, another member of the pod getting aggressive, weather, currents, boats or noise, Haulena said.

There’s much curiosity about little Chester around the world amongst those who study marine mammals, Haulena said.

“A lot of people around the world are quite worried about him … students are here, all learning away. There’s so much that can be gained from doing a rescue like this, beyond helping the little guy himself. No matter what happens, it’s a worthwhile effort and I hope people appreciate that,” he said.

editor@westerlynews.ca