A pygmy sperm whale calf beached on La Jolla Shores last month and aided by bystanders as it waited for help from SeaWorld San Diego’s animal care specialists has died, the park confirmed Thursday.
The female calf, only a couple of months old, died suddenly Wednesday at 11 p.m., David Koontz, director of communications for SeaWorld San Diego said.
The animal had been receiving around-the-clock care from veterinarians at SeaWorld’s Animal Health and Rescue Center for the past 27 days. However, it had remained in critical condition since the day of her rescue from La Jolla Shores.
Still, over the past few weeks, Koontz said the calf showed signs of improvement, including a weight gain of 8 pounds, putting her at 91 pounds. She had been eating cetacean baby milk formula that included squid, a natural sperm whale food source in the wild.
SeaWorld veterinarians were hopeful for the stranded calf’s recovery, but Koontz said they knew the odds of her long-term survival were not favorable. They said it was remarkable that she stayed alive for as long as she did.
Jody Westberg, head of SeaWorld San Diego’s stranded animal program, said her crew is heartbroken over the animal’s death.
"Her passing was very emotional for all of us. We gave her everything we had and truly hoped she would have survived," Westberg said in a press release.
A necropsy will be performed on the calf to determine the cause of death.
The calf beached itself on July 28 near the Scripps Pier at La Jolla Shores Beach. Bystanders, including marine conservation students, spotted the animal clearly in distress and jumped in to help while they waited for SeaWorld’s animal rescue crew to arrive.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) Lt. Rich Stropky said witnesses recorded video of the whale and quickly called lifeguards and animal rescue organizations to report the incident. With instruction from the experts over the phone, the passersby – including adults and children – and SDFD lifeguards rolled up their sleeves and got to work helping the whale.
They dug a hole, put the calf inside and poured water on it, keeping its skin wet. Kids eagerly ran back and forth to the ocean, filling their beach buckets with water to bring to the whale.
Stropky said the group effort was really something, calling the team work a "powerful" moment.
Soon, SeaWorld animal care experts arrived and took the calf to the park to receive care.
At the time of its stranding, Koontz said the whale was only a few weeks old. Marine animal experts said it is rare for a pygmy sperm whale to beach itself off the Pacific Coast.
Since the 1970s, SeaWorld has only rescued four pygmy sperm whales, including this calf.
Koontz said the knowledge gained from this rescue and rehabilitative care of the calf "has the potential to help advance critical animal care and ultimately have application in marine and terrestrial species in the wild."
SeaWorld had been coordinating its efforts on the whale with National Marine Fisheries Service. The park will continue that relationship as the post-mortem exam is performed on the calf.