The ailing Blainville’s beaked whale is improving at the Hawaii Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility in Hilo and center officials are hoping she becoming its first success story.
As the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s freshmen began their week of orientation activities Monday, the Coast Guard was flying in a Blainville’s beaked whale for treatment at UH-Hilo’s Hawaii Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility (HCRF).
The 1,800 pound, 11-and one-half foot long female is the only live beaked whale ever brought into rehab in Hawaii. A rarely seen and little understood species which hunts at tremendous depths, she was observed swimming back and forth in shallow waters off Kihei, Maui.
Word of the animal’s impending arrival reached HCRF Director and UH-Hilo Marine Science Associate Professor Dr. Jason Turner as an incoming freshman and her mother had arrived at his office to seek advising assistance. After explaining the situation and arranging for a colleague to assist the student, Turner rushed to the facility and was later surprised to see the pair show up at the site.
“They were there to actually witness the whale being brought in,” Turner said. “Its funny, but sometimes it takes a newcomer’s perspective to remind us what a rare and unique experience this is.”
The facility, located at the University’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center in Keaukaha, is the only one of its kind in Hawaii and the Pacific region dedicated to the humane care and treatment of sick, injured and out-of-habitat whales and dolphins. It is also one of only three such centers in the United States operated by a university.
Turner said news of the whale’s arrival has spread and while the facility has tried to balance the public’s interest without compromising the animal’s rehabilitation, a group of students dropped by for a visit Thursday.
“We had about 50 students from nearby Keaukaha Elementary School,” Turner said. “They were really fascinated to see something like this taking place right in their own backyard.”
Scholars are also taking interest in the work being performed. Turner says two academic publications will be coming out from the facility’s effort to save the whale.
The whale is currently receiving 24-hour care by trained volunteers, which include marine science students, marine biologists, veterinarians, NOAA officials and others who comprise the 220-member Hilo Marine Mammal Response Network (HMMRN).
Responders have been working in shifts guiding the animal around the waters in the 25,000 gallon salt water pool, providing food and nutrition, and conducting a series of tests to determine the nature of her ailment.
Turner said they’ve received results from the blood work, hearing and ultrasound tests. Although the animal appears to have no hearing damage, the tests indicate she may have a kidney disorder.
This is the second animal that has been brought to the facility since the Center’s grand opening in March. A striped dolphin that beached on the Kona side was already in such bad shape that it died only hours after its arrival.
However, they are cautiously optimistic about their current patient, which appears to be much healthier.
“There are no known cases of a beaked whale being successfully rehabilitated and released, so we understand the challenge we’re facing,” Turner said. “But this animal is stabilizing and improving, and if we continue to see that for a month or two, then she just might become that first success story.