Kidney Disease, Ulcers Plague Sea World Patient : Ailing Whale Has More Health Woes

Times Staff Writer

Sea World officials say an ailing beluga whale has kidney and ulcer problems in addition to a respiratory infection and the inflammatory bone infection that the park's veterinarians have been trying to treat.

The 2,125-pound whale, Big Mouth, was flown here April 26 from the Minnesota Zoo for treatment of the infection, osteomyelitus, in his left flipper, which could leave the whale with less than one year to live.

However, lesions caused by the infection do appear to be healing in response to antibiotic treatment, Sea World spokeswoman Jackie Hill said.

The 14-year-old whale also contracted a respiratory infection early this month, causing bouts of pneumonia which, marine experts say, could be lethal coupled with other health problems. Marine experts say beluga whales usually live to be about 35 years old.

Results of Extensive Exam

After more extensive examination, Sea World marine experts have found that Big Mouth also has a chronic kidney disease and stomach ulcers, Hill said.

"The osteomyelitus is still the biggest threat to him returning to a normal state of health, which there is always a chance of and that is why we are doing all this," Hill said. "These other conditions were present when we received him and we knew about them; we had medical records from Minnesota."

Hill said Sea World did not originally announce Big Mouth's other health problems because the park needed to do its own examination. She said the major threat to the whale still is the respiratory infection.

Stress-Related Problem

"Now that we have had the chance to look the animal over, we can see that he does have a chronic kidney infection that he has probably been working with for a year. And he has stomach ulcers, probably the result of the stress of his long-term illness."

Hill said the ulcers also could be caused by stress as a result of surgery last year. The surgery was for removal of a fist-size lesion from the whale's lower jaw caused by his infection. For now, Hill said the park will continue to treat Big Mouth with antibiotics.

A 14-foot-long female beluga whale, Little Girl, also was transferred here along with Big Mouth because, officials say, she becomes upset and won't eat when the male whale is absent. Hill said Big Mouth's health problems pose no threat to the 1,300-pound, 12-year-old female.

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