The whale rescued from the beach at Waipuilani in Kihei on Monday is napping, swimming and eating a 2-liter squid milkshake every four hours at the University of Hawaii-Hilo's new dolphin hospital.
David Schofield, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration marine mammal response network coordinator for Hawaii, said the whale was going to get her first solid squid Wednesday afternoon. She remained in "stable but guarded" condition.
The whale has been identified as a Blainville's beaked whale, so rare that staff members at the Hawaii Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility have never seen a live one before. Teams of researchers have descended on her 25,000-gallon tank, testing her hearing and learning about respiration, nutrition and other secrets of whale life they have never had a chance to observe up close or test.
Hilo Marine Mammal Response Network photo
A rare beaked whale gets some hands-on attention at the University of Hawaii-Hilo’s Hawaii Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility pool.
The whale is nearly twice as heavy as volunteers estimated Monday, 1,900 pounds. Researcher Robin Baird of the Cascadia Research Foundation helped Schofield determine that the animal is probably a subadult or very young adult.
Blainville's beaked whales are preyed on by cookie-cutter sharks, so they accumulate scars as they get older. The scars can be used to identify individuals and, Schofield said in a telephone interview from Hilo, estimate "life experience."
Blood and other tests show this whale is suffering from kidney problems, "had not eaten in a very long time" and was badly dehydrated.
For that reason, she has been given a mostly liquid diet of water and electrolytes, with small squid milkshakes.
Her bowel movements indicated she hadn't been eating, but after three days, she is showing some signs of more normal digestive activity, encouraging those caring for her to warily put her back on solid food.
Beaked whales live in deep water, which in most parts of the world means far offshore, but off Kona where the water deepens quickly, they are found only a couple of kilometers from shore, according to Baird.
Still, they do not come ashore unless something is wrong. A Cuvier's beaked whale that came ashore in Hana in March was dying. Having a live Blainville's beaked whale to study is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Until a few decades ago, no one had seen a live Blainville's beaked whale. They were known only from bones found on beaches.
UH-Hilo students are watching the whale around the clock, and Schofield said a Hawaiian cultural practitioner is assisting. Every time a new procedure is tried on the whale, the practitioner is on hand to perform appropriate protocols, he said.
Among other things, those tending to the whale are learning about the animal's temperament, which has been docile. She swims around, naps for 15 or 20 minutes at a time and then wakes up to swim some more.
Schofield said she was probably less stressed on the plane flight to Hilo than she was in the water, although her minders were anxious.
Her belly is "pretty badly beaten up," probably from the time she was rolling on the edge on the water Monday morning.
Blainville's beaked whales are deep divers that spend only 3 to 5 percent of their time at the surface. Baird's team has had good success in finding them but, since they spend so little time at the surface, they are hard to study.
Small groups of up to five are encountered about once in five days of whale searching off Kona.
More information can be found at www.cascadiaresearch.org/hawaii/species.htm.
The Hawaiian Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility opened in June. Assistant Director Jennifer Turner said it has had just one previous patient, a striped dolphin that came in in very bad shape and did not survive.
More information about the center can be found at www.dolphinrehab.org.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at email@example.com.