A young pygmy killer whale continued to improve Saturday at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport after being rescued from death Thursday afternoon on the north shore of Cat Island.
The rare rescue, only the second of a 40-year career for IMMS director Moby Solangi, comes in a year when hundreds of dolphin carcasses have washed up on Gulf shores.
The live whale provides the best opportunity yet to determine what is sickening the marine mammals, Solangi said.
Extensive samples have been taken from the whale, which appears to be between two and four years old. Solangi said the whale is less disoriented and trying to swim.
The 185-pound animal is receiving round-the-clock care that includes fluids and antibiotics, he said. The whale had been bitten by predators and has skin lesions.
Solangi said testing will help determine whether they are freshwater lesions like the ones found on dolphin carcasses that have washed ashore this year in record numbers.
Scientists say fresh Mississippi River water from the Bonnet Carré Spillway in Louisiana, opened for an unprecedented 123 days this year to relieve flooding, caused the lesions. The federal government is studying the dolphin deaths.
Solangi said the whale is the only live marine mammal to wash ashore this year in Mississippi or Alabama and provides more pristine samples for study.
The spillway opening is also being blamed for the deaths of sea turtles and oysters unable to live in the lower salinity water that flooded the Mississippi Sound, and for an invasion of potentially toxic algae that has closed beach waters to swimming.
This story has been updated to include the correct species of the whale after further examination by marine-mammal experts.