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Stranded whale is moved to heated pool at motel


The Citizen

24th January 2003

With help from a Key Largo Canvas crane, Marine Mammal Conservancy volunteers hoist a sick pygmy sperm whale from waters near Coast Guard Station Islamorada to a Ryder truck waiting to transport the mammal to a heated saltwater pool at the Islander Motel in Islamorada.

ISLAMORADA -- Fearing this weekend's cold snap may kill an ailing beached pygmy sperm whale, rescuers Thursday moved the lumbering beast to a heated motel swimming pool.

However, the rescuers went against the advice of National Marine Fisheries Service officials, who regulate and set guidelines for rescues of stranded marine mammals. Officials there wanted the rescuers to place the mammal, which shows signs of pneumonia and anemia, in a smaller plastic portable pool at Dolphins Plus aquarium or heat a canal near the Key Largo facility.

Rick Trout, member of the Marine Mammal Conservancy and an organizer of the rescue, feared the portable pool would be too small and it would take days to heat the canal.

"It becomes a medical problem," Trout said of the using the smaller portable pool. "Muscles can atrophy and the lungs can't move as well in that pool. That pool is for dolphins. We would be complicating the systems we are trying to fix. It doesn't make good medical sense."

Rescuers brought the 12-foot, 1,200-pound whale, dubbed Kokomo, to the saltwater swimming pool at the Islander Motel in Islamorada.

National Marine Fisheries representatives would not authorize moving the mammal to the pool. However, it did little to stop the Trout and rescuers, who some have described as maverick in their approach.

Officials from the National Marine Fisheries and its sister agency the Southeastern U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Network were concerned about putting the whale, which is already struggling to stay alive, in a public pool. They were also worried about the safety of those who would later swim in the pool.

"This is a public facility and this animal is carrying diseases," Southeastern Stranding Network Coordinator Blair Mase said.

However, Trout and others conferred with three veterinarians before placing the whale in the motel's pool.

Nearly a half-dozen rescuers hoisted the 1,200 mammal with a crane and loaded it into a rented Ryder truck. It was then taken a few miles to the hotel, hoisted out of the truck and lowered into the pool.

"We're about helping the animals," Trout said. "The move is all about getting him through the cold snap."

Waters in the area are running anywhere from high 50s to low 60s, Trout said.

Those temperatures could drop lower with this weekend's predicted cold snap.

It's unclear what the fallout will be from the rescuers' actions or if the National Marine Fisheries will revoke their permit to rescue stranded sea life.

"Right now, we are concerned with saving the whale," Mase said. "We will discuss ramifications later."

The whale was discovered by Coast Guard officers near the tidal flats at Snake Creek shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday. The mammal was pulled to the Coast Guard boat ramp where rescuers had been nursing the animal prior to the move. They had been giving the animal Pedialyte, distilled water and Maalox to settle its stomach and hydrate it and antibiotics to fight pneumonia and infection.

The whale will probably have to be treated for several weeks before it could be released back to the ocean, Trout said. Rescuers are giving the whale round-the-clock medical treatment.