Vancouver Aquarium staff say the next several days are critical for a wild porpoise rescued in poor condition after it washed up on the beach of one of British Columbia'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 Salt Spring Island, located between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
Within hours, the young animal was transported by hovercraft and, with police help, to an on-landfreshwater tank in Vancouver to be rehydrated and given 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," Dr. 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 is suffering from pneumonia, muscle damage, stomach ulcers and parasites in its lungs, he said.
Staff have cradled the porpoise in a sling made of two bright yellow pool noodles and a red brace. 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, Dr. Haulena said.
"It's those problems that are the usual immediate cause of death for stranded animals - not the reason they were originally stranded," he said.
The people who found the porpoise 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, a 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, blowhole 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 kinds of things can affect these animals and their populations is very important," Dr. Haulena said.
Wild harbour porpoises 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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