VANCOUVER – Chesterman is holding his own. The infant Pseudorca (false killer whale) rescued from
stranding in the surf at Chesterman Beach in Tofino is swimming around his pool on his own at the Vancouver A Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
Something of a wonder, he is. Only three Pseudorcas have been successfully rescued from strandings – ever- and Chesterman is the youngest. His first odds were poor, but he continues to thrive in spite of the odds.
For a familiar caregiver in the water – a stand-in for the mama Pseudorca he should, in an ideal world, still be nursing on -he will roll a bit for a belly rub and comforting contact.
Chesterman is a cutie. Not out of the woods yet – and watched 24-7 by volunteers just in case – he has mostly recovered from muscle damage sustained by gravity during his stranding on solid land, but he’s still building power on a diet of formula based on a fish diet.
“He tries to dive but he doesn’t have the strength to do it,” said Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the centre.
It’s something of a mystery, where a lone juvenile Pseudorca too weak to swim came from – or how he ended up on Chesterman Beach, the Tofino surf site where he was found in July, then cradled by rescuers in a beach towel sling for hours This time of year, a baby Pseudorca would be expected to be nursing in warmer waters, California, or perhaps Hawaii.
Chesterman’s strange appearance on the West Coast of Vancouver Island attracted the attention of Robin William Baird, a researcher who is something of a guru on the topic of Pseudorcas. In Vancouver for a family reunion, he stopped by to see the young creature when Chesterman was still in the equivalent of neonatal intensive care, cradled in a sling, too weak to even stay afloat.
“(Baird) had never seen one that small, and he’s done tons of research,” said Akhurst.
Over six feet long, Chesterman came to the centre at 94 kilos. He is currently gaining half a kilo (about a pound) a day.
Staff take blood samples every five days to monitor for things like white cell count, inflammation, hydration and liver function.
Not a betting person, Akhurst didn’t want to speculate on updated odds – initially, his prospects were considered to be well under 10% for survival.
“These guys are super tricky (to rescue); only three in the world have been rehabilitated, and the odds are stacked against him,” she said.
There has been a little blowback from within the enviro lobby, concerns about a Pseudorca in human care, but there’s a world of fans watching for updates on his progress, Akhurst said.
“We have thousands upon thousands, on the positive side,” she said. “People message us daily – they have so much invested in him emotionally.”
“When you have an animal not a lot is known about, from a species of special concern … and he’s still alive, you see him swimming around with our staff – that’s pretty special,” she said.
If he makes it to adulthood, his return to the wild would be a matter for the experts at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Finding his pod is unlikely, Akhurst said, and then there’s the problem of teaching him to forage and to fend off predators.
But for now, every day buys some time for a baby Pseudorca, bucking the odds in a marine rescue centre at the heart of Vancouver’s harbourfront industrial district. His lullabye there is the sound of baby harbour seals rescued and being rehabilitated for eventual return to the ocean once they reach 20 kilos.
A volunteer originally from Edmonton, Marlaina watches him quietly from the side of the pool, where she takes notes.
“You get to see his progress .. he seems to have a lot more energy, you can definitely see he’s got a lot more strength (than last week). He’s coming out of the water more,” Marlaina said.
Like any baby, Chesterman takes frequent naps, surfing along on a sort of auto-pilot around his 16-foot pool. He vocalizes sometimes, soft, high bird-like echolocation
noises. And like any baby, when he wakes up, he’s a charmer.
“Huge personality,” said Akhurst. “He’s pretty cute when he looks at you with his eye.”
Yes, he is.