British Columbia

Beached porpoise moved to Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver Aquarium staff say the next several days are critical for a wild porpoise rescued in very poor condition after it washed up on the beach of one of B.C.'s Gulf Islands.
An ailing harbour porpoise is being treated for a variety of ailments after it beached itself on a Saltspring Island beach. (John Healey)

Vancouver Aquarium staff say the next several days are critical for a wild porpoise rescued in very poor condition after it washed up on the beach of one of B.C.'s Gulf Islands.

Efforts to nurse the mammal back to health began after the aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre received a call Tuesday that it was in distress, too sick and emaciated to swim off the beach on Saltspring Island, located between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

Within hours, the young animal was transported by hovercraft and, with police help, to an on-land, fresh water tank in Vancouver to be rehydrated and get medical attention.

The male porpoise, named Siyay after the hovercraft, a First Nations word for friendship, has about a 10 per cent chance of making it through the next few days, said aquarium veterinarian Martin Haulena.

"Obviously you want to do your best for the animal [but] odds are stacked against you," Haulena said Wednesday as he monitored the rehabilitation process. "But our team is phenomenal and there's no better place for this porpoise as far as I'm concerned."

The animal was suffering pneumonia, muscle damage, stomach ulcers and parasites in its lungs, Haulena said.

24-hour care

Staff have cradled the porpoise in a sling made of two bright yellow pool noodles and a red brace, where they are watching it around the clock and feeding it medicated fish to aid in recovery.

Healing the porpoise involves getting an understanding of why it got stranded, dealing with the health problems that occur afterwards and minimizing bumps and bruises that can occur from human intervention, Haulena said.

"It's those problems that are the usual, immediate cause of death for stranded animals, not even the reason they were originally stranded," he said.

The people who found the mammal tried to push it back into the ocean, to no avail, something the aquarium staff say is not advisable because it can inadvertently cause harm.

It's only the second time in five years the aquarium has rescued a live porpoise, which staff consider an unusual educational opportunity because they more frequently wash up dead.

The last time, the dependant calf named Daisy survived and now lives at the aquarium, because it could not be released back into the wild.

Wild harbour porpoise are considered shy but are frequently spotted in bays and harbours in the summer. They live in Pacific waters from Alaska to Mexico, while others thrive in the Northwest Atlantic.

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