News / Vancouver

Rare false killer whale condition still 'hour to hour,' says Vancouver Aquarium vet

A dramatic rescue by Vancouver Aquarium staff of a rare and relatively mysterious false killer whale in Tofino on July 10 has the team tending to the creature 24 hours a day, but it’s still too early to tell if the calf will live or die.

Dr. Martin Haulena has been caring for the as-of-yet unnamed animal since they brought him in, but said it’s still touch and go.

“Well, he’s doing as well as can be expected,” Haulena said. “He’s still in very critical condition, but some initial blood work has come back OK, which is great. But he does have significant muscle damage and is unable to swim on his own. Unfortunately, the odds are against him.”

On a positive note the false killer whale (a rarity in these waters as they are typically found in tropical or sub-tropical environments, according to Haulena) has survived longer than they first thought.

A false killer whale is a cetacean that shares characteristics with the killer whale, such as its hunting tendencies, but is normally smaller in size and tends to live in different bodies of water.

“The chances are still really low, but boy am I ever impressed that he’s doing as well that he can be doing,” he said.

The false killer whale has been in the care of the Vancouver Aquarium since he was discovered off the coast of Tofino, hurt and unable to move.

So far the team has found rake (teeth) marks, which generally come from whale parents doing a form of discipline, or potentially other animals attacking it, as well as wounds from the animal thrashing on rocks.

Since then they have worked all hours of the day doing as much diagnostics as possible, and the testing will continue for the next several weeks.

“The biggest piece of information I want out of him is the weight,” Haulena said. “It sounds simple, but what it entails is taking him out of the water, getting him onto a scale, and getting as accurate a weight as possible.”

This information will tell the team if they’re doing the right kind of therapy or not, as the whale was severely underfed when the first took him in.

But with an injured animal living hour to hour, it’s not a simple task.

The debate of whether or not to keep whales in captivity has recently resurfaced in Vancouver, with outspoken critic and park board commissioner Constance Barnes stating that the false killer whale should have been left alone rather than "suffer" and face the potential of living in captivity.

More on