False killer whale calf strands on South Coast

  • 10 September 2015 | Ann Kunz | Category: Species

On Wednesday 9 September uShaka Sea World staff received a phone call from an early morning beach stroller, alerting them to a stranding on the lower South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

Shortly after the call, Sea World was advised that the dolphin had been returned to the sea by caring members of the public and was swimming in the breakers at Umtentwini. Since the dolphin was obviously in distress and it would take an hour-and-a-half for uShaka Sea World staff to reach the area, a decision was made to leave immediately.

uShaka Sea World staff assess the condition of the dolphin

During the drive down to Umtentwini the dolphin beached again and was once more returned to the water, where it continued to struggle.

On arrival at Umtentwini the uShaka Sea World team spotted the dolphin in the breakers a a short distance away, and with the assistance from the public and KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board staff brought the dolphin out onto the beach.

It was immediately identified as a young false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens), measuring just over two metres. Rough sea conditions on the day had caused multiple lacerations to her body as she battled to fight the breakers. The little dolphin was beautiful, but in such a pitiful condition that there was no shortage of willing helpers on the scene.

The animal was immediately given a sedative and adrenaline. While uShaka Sea World veterinarian, Dr Francois Lampen, examined the young dolphin, animal care staff and members of the public kept her calm, monitored her breathing and covered her body and eyes. Parasites had attached themselves to her tail flukes and pectoral fins, which indicated that she had been drifting in the water for some time. The dolphin was also clearly emaciated.

The young false killer whale was in very poor condition, with lacerations covering her body

Why and how she ended up being separated from her mother is the subject of much speculation as life out in the pelagic ocean, where false killer whales are naturally found, has not been well researched.

Ezemvelo Wildlife officials decided that the only assistance uShaka staff could render was to alleviate the dolphin's suffering by assisting her to die peacefully.

A full post mortem will be performed to try and find some answers as to why she ended up in such a compromised condition at such a young age.

The false killer whale is the world's third-largest dolphin, and lives in tropical waters. Although it shares some characteristics with the true killer whale (Orcinus orca), or orca – its appearance and that it attacks and kills marine mammals – it is not considered a killer whale.

Male false killer whales can grow to 5.7m, and weigh around 2 300kg at maturity.

 

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