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Rescued false killer whale calf passes first hurdle in long-odds battle

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre handle a rescued false killer whale in a handout photo released on Thursday July 24, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

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Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre handle a rescued false killer whale in a handout photo released on Thursday July 24, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

VANCOUVER - A critically ill false killer whale calf rescued off a beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island has overcome one of its most life-threatening challenges.

Staff at the Vancouver Aquarium say the little creature is now nursing from a bottle as it receives round-the-clock care at the aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre on Vancouver's waterfront.

The bottle was designed by University of British Columbia PhD student Amelia MacRae, who did research for her master's degree with the aquarium, studying diet and feeding levels of marine mammals.

Clint Wright, the aquarium's senior vice-president, used his experience with cetaceans to coax the male calf to nurse.

The whale was estimated at barely six weeks old when it was found near Tofino on July 10, and still requires some feeding by tube.

Veterinarians hope it will continue to improve its bottle-feeding techniques so the tube feeding can be stopped.

They say the calf is also slowly building its strength, buoyancy and co-ordination but remains in a flotation sling in a shallow pool, with staff constantly walking it in circles through the water.

False killer whales are actually members of the dolphin family and are rarely seen in B.C.'s coastal waters, preferring the open ocean off the West Coast.

The calf was near death when it was found, with respiratory problems, lacerations and wounds from being tossed onto the sand and lying on the beach for several hours.

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