Although the pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps, is the second most
common species to strand in the southeastern United States, releases of rehabilitated animals
are extremely rare. This species has a poor record of survival after stranding, although recent
successes have extended survival in rehabilitation to over one year. The staff and volunteers of
the Dolphin and Whale Hospital at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium have made a number of
attempts to save pygmy sperm whales and much has been learned during those attempts. Knowledge
has been gained in the areas of basic biology and behavior of these animals, as well as the
rearing of orphans and veterinary care. For example, one adult male produced beaks from over 20
species (10 families) of deep water squid when vomiting was induced in weeks 1 and 2 of
rehabilitation, and also when the animal died, forty days later, indicating a much longer
gastric retention period of squid beaks than suggested in the literature. This same animal was
successfully treated for 12 different medical conditions, ranging from gastric stasis to acute
kidney failure, but eventually died after 40 days in captivity. Long-term rehabilitation of
orphan calves has produced data on growth rates and age at which they begin to take solid food.
In general, pygmy sperm whales have many gastrointestinal problems and cardiomyopathy is often
diagnosed in older individuals. These whales seems to be sensitive to a variety of different
medications commonly used during rehabilitation such as acid blockers and atropine as well as
fluoroquinolone and cephalosporin antibiotics, and care must be exercised when any new
medication is begun. In addition, this species seems to be more susceptible to over-medicating
than do other species of cetaceans.
This work has been supported through private donations by various
individuals. The authors wish to thank all of the Animal Care staff, volunteers, and college
interns who so freely donate their time and efforts to make the rehabilitation work of the
Dolphin and Whale Hospital possible.