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Sick whales remain 'guarded'


20th April 2003
BIG PINE KEY - Florida

Seven stranded pilot whales remain in
guarded" condition Monday with the
chief marine veterinarian calling their
illness a possible viral infection.

Rescuers took more blood samples Monday and sent them to Dr. Charles Manire at Mote Marine Aquarium in Sarasota. Manire planned to analyze the samples over the next several days and come up with a prognosis.

However little is known about viruses in pilot whales.
"It appears that we're probably dealing with a viral infection affecting the kidneys and liver," Manire said. "The organ damage can either be from the infection or from just the dehydration. There is no way to know for sure until more work can be done.
"The problem is we know so little about these mammals. We know about the morbillivirus," a potentially fatal virus in whales, he said, "but there could be hundreds more that we don't about."

Manire has analyzed some initial blood work taken hours after the stranding, but has not fully reviewed Monday's samples.

Results from necropsies of the 11 whales that have died show that at least one suffered from pneumonia before the group stranded. The results also showed that their stomachs were empty, which illustrates that they were swimming out of their habitat for several days, National Marine Fisheries Service Stranding Coordinator Laura Engleby said.

Marine mammal rescuer and Marine Mammal Conservancy Executive Director Rick Trout remained cautiously optimistic about the seven whales' prognosis, calling their condition "guarded."

"We are seeing signs of a slow improvement. No one is getting any worse. But we don't do miracles," Trout said.

All but one whale ate squid Monday. All are still being tube fed Pedialyte and water or baby formula.

Eleven of the whales have died, seven are being rehabilitated in the shallows off Big Pine Key and the whereabouts of the other whales are unknown. Rescuers hope the untracked whales swam back to the deep blue seas they normally call home.

The seven remaining pilot whales are being rehabilitated in the shallows behind the old Mariners Cove resort. Rescuers hope to take the usually deep-diving mammals to a deeper canal or into nearby deeper water.

The whales were taken to Mariners Cove because it has a deep canal behind the abandoned resort. However, the canal has not been flushed out in years and is filled with stagnant and smelly water. Trout is now scouting new spots to take the whales.