On February 3, 2004, a male, approximately 1,800kg, 478 cm, neonatal Right Whale calf was found alive on Fernandina Beach, St. Augustine, St. John's County, Florida at 7 am by a lay observer. Initial examination revealed a thin, neonatal animal that appeared to be tachypneic and hypothermic in water contaminated with feces. Treatment included removal of fecal contaminated water and attempts were made to warm the animal. Emergency medications including intramuscular injection of 100cc Dexamethasone, 40cc Vitamin E/Selenium, and 100cc calphosan calcium were administered at 2pm. Blood samples were originally taken from the dorsal fluke veins though it was noted that venipuncture quickly became more difficult. Onsite analysis revealed a severe hypoglycemia. An intramuscular injection of Duopen was administered at 3:30pm and 10cc of Demerol were administered at 5:15pm. Large equipment was organized by NOAA coordinators and attempts were made to move the calf for temporary housing at Marineland, FL. The calf expired naturally during transport at 5:15pm.
No reference intervals for Right Whales exist and this is believed to be the first complete blood analysis in a Right Whale. Using other reference intervals for domestic and cetacean species some inferences about significant changes may be attempted. Complete blood count revealed a low, normal white blood cell count with a predominance of neutrophils. Upon slide review, platelets were clumped but assessed as adequate. The most significant finding was a low plasma and serum protein both on refractometry and using the biuret method of analysis. Albumin was within normal range to increased while the globulin component was markedly decreased. Biochemical analysis also revealed a markedly increased alkaline phosphatase and aspartamine aminotransferase. A markedly decreased blood glucose was documented. It is possible that creatinine, blood urea nitrogen, and creatine kinase may have been mildly to moderately increased but this cannot be proven with existing data. A plasma gel electrophoresis performed based on the decreased globulin concentration revealed an agammaglobulinemia.
Necropsy revealed a patent urachus and a constricted but patent ductus arteriosus and foramen ovale. These findings are consistent with an animal <48 hours old and likely did not contribute to the animal's death. Extramedullary hematopoiesis was noted in the sublumbar and mesenteric lymph nodes.
Mild lymphocytic and histiocytic infiltrate was noted in the lungs along with the presence of squamous cells. No infectious agents were identified with special stains (B and B, GMS). The presence of squamous cells without infectious agent and significant inflammation is considered to be a normal finding in a neonate. Marked atelectasis was noted, consistent with a large animal stranded on the beach. It is difficult to ascertain if the atelectasis was pre or postmortem.
The stomach contained approximately one liter of dark brown fluid and no ingesta. Meconium was present in the colon. Histopathology revealed a mild to moderate eosinophilic and lymphoplasmacytic enterocolitis. Colonies of bacteria, present in the submucosa, extended as deeply as the lamina propria in the colon. Culture revealed a 95% growth of Vibrio sp.
The authors would like to acknowledge all of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, SeaWorld, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission employees and volunteers and others who worked very hard to respond to and coordinate the response to this stranding event. We would also like to acknowledge the responders and employees from the University of Florida, including Ruth Francis-Floyd, Martha Keller, and Hendrik Nollens, who helped facilitate the necropsy and sample collection.