Five Young Pilot Whales Saved for Captivity, 15 – 17 Died or Were Euthanized in Florida

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FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Only five of the more than 20 pilot whales that came ashore on a South Florida beach today have survived, despite a daylong effort by state and national officials, nearby residents and others to save them.
A spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service says two calves and three juveniles have been transported to Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Institute for rehabilitation. Allison Garrett says the rest died of natural causes or had to be humanely euthanized. She says although there was no obvious sign of trauma or injury to the whales, necropsies will be performed on them.
“It was not possible to rehabilitate them,” she told the Associated Press.
The pod of 22 whales came ashore Saturday morning at Avalon Beach State Park in St. Lucie County. They ranged from calves and juveniles to adult whale

The young whales were transported to Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Institute for rehabilitation, where they will doubtless get top notch care….but chances are high that these whales will never see the ocean again.  We need to find better ways to help stranded whales and dolphins than the current practice of saving only the ones destined for a life of captivity and research.
From the Harbor Branch website:

Marine Mammal Stranding Response

The Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Research and Conservation (MMRC) Program maintains a 365/24/7 emergency response capability. Upon notification, MMRC First Responders deploy necessary assets and coordinate resources needed to rescue and transport sick or injured marine mammals to rehabilitative care facilities for evaluation. Deceased animals are transported to Harbor Branch’s MMRC Necropsy Laboratory where detailed pathobiological examinations can be performed and a cause of death determined.

Marine Mammal Rescue Program Summary

Established in 1998, by Stephen McCulloch and Marilyn Mazzoil, the MMRC Rescue Program was developed in response to an increasing number of stranding events in a vital region of Florida’s central east coast that lacked the resources and staff needed to respond to and/or treat sick or injured marine mammals.
During the past decade, MMRC’s dedicated team of veterinarians, animal care managers, and a host of specialists and volunteers have responded to more than 250 regional stranding events involving more than 300 individual whales and dolphins, and even three artic seals that found their way to Florida waters in 2007.
Due to the extensive expertise and resources developed by MMRC staff, Harbor Branch is often asked to intervene and aid in special circumstances such as the recovery of 8 dolphins washed out to sea following Hurricane Katrina, or when dolphins must be rescued from the wild when disease or entanglements threaten their lives. This involves locating, rescuing, and treating marine mammals in open-water, and then releasing them to the wild to monitored via radio or satellite telemetry.

Goals and Mandates

MMRC’s mandates for marine mammal research and conservation being conducted at Harbor Branch are to:

  1. Collect, analyze, and archive scientific data regarding marine mammal populations that inhabit, utilize, or migrate in in Florida waters.
  2. Provide care and assistance to sick or injured marine mammals
  3. Distribute information to the scientific community, federal, state, and local government agencies, educational institutions, and to the public for the purpose of protecting and preserving wild marine mammal stocks.
  4. Individually identify wild dolphins through a photographic identification program
  5. Advance the research technology associated with tracking, monitoring, and categorizing whales and develop methods of early-warning detection systems and advance notification that will help prevent accidental boat strikes in state waters.
  6. Construct and maintain a teaching marine mammal hospital
  7. Train veterinary students in the rescue, medical and rehabilitation treatment, and release and post-release monitoring of stranded whales
  8. Conduct scientific research through genetic, telemetry, and bioacoustical research

Experience and Capabilities

Harbor Branch operates as a marine mammal stranding responder under a Letter of Authorization (LOA) issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to the Program Manager and Senior Animal Care Manager, Stephen McCulloch. MMRC’s response area covers Indian River county on the central east coast of Florida, from Sebastian Inlet (27°51’39.06″N/ 80°26’51.30″W) to Fort Pierce Inlet (27°28’18.88″N/ 80° 17’23.58″W), in both the IRL and Atlantic Ocean. Expanded coverage is provided when requested by the NMFS and other stranding response participants.
From January 1, 1998 to Present (2008), the MMRC has responded more than 240 stranding incidents involving more than 300 individuals, distributed over seven cetacean species (Kogia breviceps, Kogia simus, Mesoplodon europaeus, Peponocephala electra, Stenella clymene, Steno bredanensis, and Tursiops truncatus) and two species of Artic pinnipeds, Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus) and Hooded Seals (Cystophora cristata) .

Educational Opportunities

Additionally, post-graduate positions have provided a valuable learning platform for these professionals to gain important experience in preparing themselves for future careers in the field of marine mammal care and conservation, and greatly enhance our staff effectiveness as they provide full support roles from beginning to end throughout every marine mammal stranding event. The program also depends on a sizable number of trained and dependable volunteers to assist in all aspects of our marine mammal-stranding response program.

Check back for updates as more information is obtained.

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