What should be done for lost baby dolphins and whales?


The recent saga of yet another lost whale calf has many people wondering if we need to reevaluate the protocols for helping stranded and injured dolphins and whales. This melon-headed whale calf was monitored for almost a week before it was taken to shore, weak from hunger and dehydration, to be euthanized.
In a similar event, an orca calf was monitored as it clung to a harbor buoy in New Zealand (Baby killer whale fights for life in New Zealand harbour) but wasn’t allowed to be rescued for almost three weeks –  which was also too late. These situations are stressful and difficult for those who are called upon to decide the fate of the helpless animals, and it would seem that stranding responders could use more support for their difficult jobs, more funding and equipment, and rescue facilities.
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Lost baby whale is slowly dying – does ‘natural selection’ really apply? (UPDATE)

UPDATE: The calf was brought to shore and euthanized on Friday, September 23rd – “”Between myself and the veterinarian, the animal was in a very debilitated or moribund state and we took it under sedation first to try to relieve it from its pain, and then the animal was humanely euthanized,” said David Schofield, Regional Marine Mammal Response Coordinator. ” KITV News.
Original article:
According to this article, a lone baby melon-headed whale has been swimming of Kalama Beach on Oahu, Hawaii’s windward coast since Sunday. NOAA program manager David Schofield has been monitoring the calf but has decided against trying to do anything at this point.

Program manager David Schofield says they’ve been discussing ways to aid the baby whale, from bringing it in to taking it out to join another pod of whales. None of the options appear feasible at this point, he added.
Schofield previously told KHON2 that they could only watch, wait, and monitor: “We would not attempt to rehabilitate a dependent calf. What a calf needs is its mother, its mother milk, its ability to teach it.”
NOAA says it’s possible the baby whale will either strand on the beach, or natural selection will take place. Hourly reports are being sent back to NOAA’s main office.
Shark warning signs remain posted in the area. (Khon2).

Officials are reasonably sure that a whale’s body found in the area was the mother so odds are against a happy outcome for the calf.
The question here is why NOAA feels it is okay to leave a baby animal out to die of starvation, dehydration, or to be killed by a predator. Are baby buffaloes, antelopes, wild horses, bears, moose, elk, or deer just left to ‘natural selection’ when officials know they are motherless? Why do we think it is okay for sea mammals?
Why not try to rescue it – melon-headed whales are really just large dolphins, similar to pilot whales which have been successfully rescued and released. (Once-stranded pilot whales released off Keys). There are efforts ongoing in Hawaii to fund a dedicated rescue facility on Oahu but in the meantime there are other temporary options.
And is it really valid to argue that this is ‘natural selection’ at work, when humans have so thoroughly altered coastal ocean habitats? Noise from water craft and sonar do a good job of masking whale and dolphin sonar making it more difficult for them to communicate, and it is an unfortunate truth that fishermen still shoot whales or accidentally hook them. What is natural about that?
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More about stranded/rescued whales and dolphins can be found here.
About melon-headed whales (from NOAA):

Physical Description

Photo credit: PIFSC
The body of the melon-headed whale is completely black or dark gray; the face and cape of the animal being the darkest parts. They also have the characteristic features of white ventral marks and pink or white lips.
These whales do not have a rostrum or beak, and have many pairs of small and sharp teeth. For that reason, this animal was once called the “many-toothed blackfish.”


Melon-headed whales feed in the deep waters of the open ocean, mostly on fish, squid and crustaceans. Scientists are not certain about the actual depths that they feed, but estimate it to be up to 5,000 ft deep.
Estimated life span of at least 22 years for males and 30 years for females.

Potential Threats

  • Anthropogenic noise
  • Interactions with commercial fisheries
  • Marine debris entanglement or ingestion
  • Marine pollutants