Rescued porpoise in critical condition at Vancouver Aquarium

Young animal sick, emaciated, distressed and unable to swim, staff say.

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Aquarium staff say the next several days are critical for a wild porpoise rescued in very poor condition after it washed up on a beach on Salt Spring Island.

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 Salt Spring.

Within hours, the young animal was transported by a coast guard 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.

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.

Researchers are hoping the latest rescue goes well, so they can learn from the mammal's blood, blow hole and fecal samples.

"(Porpoises) share the environment with us, they eat the things we do, they breathe the air we do, so getting an idea of what kind of things can affect these animals and their populations is very important,'' Haulena said. "No better insight is gained other than dealing with a live animal that's come from 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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