Multi-agency rescue effort as baby false killer whale beaches near Tofino

A joint vessel patrol between government agencies turned into a joint rescue effort this morning in an effort to rescue a juvenile Pseudorca – a false killer whale on Chesterman’s Beach in Tofino.

The marine mammal, about six feet in length, washed ashore in the fog at mid Chesterman’s. After efforts to tug it back into deeper water didn’t work, rescuers cradled it for hours in a makeshift sling made from two beach towels.

The distressed cetacean appeared to have scratches on its nose and a crescent-shaped scar not far from its blowhole.

The creature struggled very little. Its eyes closed, it breathed in sharp intakes through its blowhole at irregular intervals. Rescuers cradled it in two beach towels, keeping it in the water with its blowhole above water and splashing it to keep it from drying out.

“It’s a very young animal, a calf, about two metres in length, with no erupted teeth – a very young animal that got separated from its mother,” said Paul Cottrell, marine mammal coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“The animal’s not in super shape.”

Cottrell said the Pseudorca is rare in British Columbia waters, usually found further south.

At 4 p.m, the animal was being transported to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Rehabilitation Centre.

It can be difficult to save a young nursing whale, Cottrell said.

“It’s a tough go to make sure they survive when they get separated like this,” he said. 

The rescuers were in good spirits at mid-day.

“It’s a little bit of strain on the back and fingers and toes are getting cold, but it’s worth it,” said Brad Bowman, a Duncan-based natural resource officer with the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. He was taking part in a joint vessel patrol when the unusual rescue came up.

“It’s rewarding …you get to help an animal out when it’s in need,” said Kayla Topping of the District of Tofino bylaw enforcement department, who was there with Tarni Jacobsen, also holding the towels, along with Tanya Dowdall, a park warden with Parks Canada, and Denise Koshowski, a lead field supervisor for Tofino Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Just correctly identifying the animal was a task since a full examination couldn’t be done when it was in danger. About six feet long, it was initially believed to be a harbour porpoise, but some online research changed Dr. Jim Darling’s thoughts, who felt it was likely a false killer whale.

“A false killer whale’s a dolphin, a quite voracious dolphin … It eats big fish and has a really solid mouthful of teeth,” Darling said.

The Pseudorca crassidens is the third-largest member of the oceanic dolphin family. They can reach lengths up to 20 feet, with weights of 4,900 pounds.

Their numbers have dwindled in recent years, a cetacean that is considered endangered in some habitats.

“They’re very social, very friendly, probably pretty smart bunch,” Darling said.

The biologist was walking on the beach with his dog when he came across the rescue underway.

“Some kind of trauma’s occurred, they’re not coming in unless there’s a reason,” said Darling, a director of the Pacific Wildlife Foundation.

“It was a great response. Everybody’s doing exactly the right thing, and they’ve got the right people involved.” 

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