Subject: Beaked Whale Stranding

Mike Williamson (
Mon, 14 Dec 1998 09:38:53 +0000

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Contact: Virginia Haley, Ext. 316
Mary Kmetz, Ext. 417

November 10, 1998


During the beaked whales' necropsy, staff found the anticipated kidney and heart lesions as well as some lung lesions that MAY be consistent with morbillivirus infection. This conclusion awaits the results of the pathology tests. Other than the pathology, it was determined that Pumbaa was not yet fully mature and some doubt was cast as to which species of beaked whale he was. The skull is being analyzed by the Smithsonian Institute where James Mead, a beaked whale specialist, will determine the species. Dr. Mead worked with Mote scientists in 1976 on a mass stranding of spinner dolphins.

During Pumbaa's stay at Mote, much was learned with regard to normal values of blood tests and to the biology of this rare animal. All of the findings add to the ever-expanding base of information regarding the treatment of whales and dolphins for various illnesses that cause them to strand and/or illnesses that develop because of stranding.

October 22, 1998


Pumbaa, the Gervais' beaked whale, died at 4:15 a.m. today following eight days of intensive care at Mote Marine Laboratory. Pumbaa began exhibiting unusual breathing patterns in the early morning hours and Mote staff tried to stimulate a more normal breathing pattern, but the whale did not respond. The whale's heart beat slowed down, became irregular, and stopped at 4:15 a.m. Pumbaa was found stranded on Redington Beach, FL, on October 13.

Pumbaa's body was transported by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from Mote to DEP's Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory in St. Petersburg. A necropsy will be performed by Sentiel Rommel, DEP and Mote Research Staff, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Miami on October 23.

Pumbaa is one of 13 beaked whales which has died during the past 45 days along the U.S. east coast from Florida to the Carolina's. NMFS officials are investigating the causes of the multiple deaths.

Late yesterday, Mote received results from tests indicating that the whale was sero positive for morbillivirus infection. Tests revealed very high titers which can be an indicator of an active infection. However, results of a second test will be needed to confirm active morbillivirus. The whale's white blood counts were consistent with a viral infection but Mote Veterinarian, Dr. Charles Manire, explained that the whale's symptoms were not typical of a morbillivirus infection.

Morbillivirus is much like canine distemper and influenza and causes suppression of the immune system in marine mammals, allowing secondary infections or other health threatening conditions which can lead the animals to strand or die. A positive test doesn't necessarily mean the animals has an active viral infection. To determine if the animal has an active morbillivirus infection, blood samples are taken a week apart to test if the antibodies are increasing. Morbillivirus has been implicated in massive die-offs of striped dolphins in the Mediterranean and in bottlenose dolphin deaths in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

October 19, 1998

Pumbaa's condition remains unchanged at Mote's Marine Mammal Rehabilitation Center in Sarasota, Florida.

October 16, 1998

A 1500 pound whale that was found off Redington Beach, Florida, remains in critical condition at Mote's Marine Mammal Center in Sarasota, Florida. The whale, nicknamed Pumbaa by voulnteers, continues to undergo medical treatment. Mote veterinary staff conducted a series of tests of Friday morning. The tests showed that he is suffering from severe dehydration, a gastric ulcer, and heart and kidney problems.

The whale is unable to swim or eat on its own. It is being fed some small fish and receiving fluids and squid gruel via a stomach tube.

Four species of beaked whales are known to occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Mote Scientists are working with James Mead, a marine mammalologist at the Smithsoninan Institute, to confirm this particular beaked whale's species.

October 13, 1998


A male beaked whale(Genus Mesoplodon) was rescued from shallow waters off Redington Beach, Florida by staff and volunteers from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Mote Marine Laboratory. The whale was transported to Mote's Marine Mammal Rehabilitation Center on Tuesday evening, October 13. It is in critical condition and under 24-hour care by Mote's marine mammal care team.

It will be some time before Mote's veterinary staff know the specifics of the beaked whale's ailments. Preliminary tests indicate elevated kidney values and anemia, and other tests have been conducted to find more about his condition. The whale is receiving fluids and antibiotics. He is about 1500 pounds and 13 = feet in length.

Four species of beaked whales are known to occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Beaked whales are deep-diving animals feeding mainly on fish and squid. They are rarely spotted in the wild and they can stay underwater for long periods of time. The last beaked whale treated at Mote was in 1985.


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