The rare Blainville's beaked whale that was rescued in Kihei on Aug. 16 remained in guarded condition Wednesday at the Hawaiian Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility in Hilo.
Nine days is a long time for a sick beaked whale to survive in captivity, but not a record. David Schofield, marine mammal response team coordinator for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Hawaii, said he is still researching the matter, but it appears that a California group kept a whale alive for 14 days.
Because these deep-water whales don't come into contact with humans unless they are sick and attempt to beach themselves, few have good prospects.
Schofield said a group of 15 to 20 volunteers from the University of Hawaii-Hilo (which is host to a dolphin hospital) are working around the clock to tend to the 1,900-pound whale.
Successful rehabilitations can take six months to a year.
Since the deep-diving whales spend little time at the surface, researchers don't know much about them. Robin Baird,
who has filmed groups of Blainville's beaked whales off the Big Island, said he hoped regular high-frequency acoustic recordings could be made.
"They would be extremely valuable. There are very few recordings available from this species, and the full range of sounds that they make is not yet known," he wrote in an e-mail from his base at the Cascadia Research Collective, which is based in Olympia, Wash.
Schofield said the Hilo group would do what it could, but the pumps that circulate water in the 25,000-gallon tank, and the currents they generate, make sound recordings problematic.
"Our priority is care of the animal, and research is ancillary to that," he said. Interventions that are "not stressful" to the whale will be considered as possible, he said.
A lot of information is being collected as part of the medical monitoring, such as blood samples. "Anything we learn will be useful" in managing future captive whales, Schofield said.
On Wednesday, he was in suspense about the whale's prognosis. The whale was still not willing to eat solid food (squid), and some of the blood values were not what they should have been, Schofield said.
Baird said that if the whale were eating on its own (instead of being force-fed "squid milkshakes"), that would provide valuable information on the species' food intake in the wild, which researchers would then use in calculating the energy it takes a whale to live in the open ocean.
Harry Eagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.