Pilot whale returns to ocean after rehab at SeaWorld Orlando

Beachgoers found 'Gale' the whale beached in July

Gale, a rescued pilot whale, at SeaWorld Orlando's rehabilitation center.
Gale, a rescued pilot whale, at SeaWorld Orlando's rehabilitation center. (SeaWorld)

ORLANDO, Fla. – A little more than a month after it was found beached in Dixie County, a pilot whale, nicknamed Gale, was successfully returned to the wild after rehabilitation at SeaWorld Orlando.

The female, short-finned pilot whale, weighing 725 pounds, was rescued after beachgoers found her. University of Florida and Clearwater Marine Aquarium rescue teams helped get Gale to SeaWorld Orlando for medical assistance.

Working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, SeaWorld veterinarians and care teams were able to see signs of improvement as Gale started swimming on her own and eating fish.

The pilot whale was able to gain her strength back through diet and antibiotics, explained SeaWorld Orlando veterinarian Dr. Lara Croft, who was part of the Gale's rescue, rehabilitation and release.

 Gale went from having no appetite to eating up to 34 pounds of squid a day, Croft said.

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A 725-pound pilot whale receives care at SeaWorld Rescue Orlando.

“This whale was doomed to die on the beach and we were able to give her a second chance at life,” Croft said.

SeaWorld selected an area 140 miles off the west coast of Florida -- a known pilot whale habitat -- to return Gale to the wild. Because pilot whales are pelagic animals, who live in mid-level water, SeaWorld needed the U.S. Coast Guard’s Cutter Joshua Appleby ship to transport Gale back out into the Gulf, Jon Peterson, SeaWorld Rescue manager said.

“She needs to get into at least 500 meters of water,” Peterson said.

With the help of NOAA and the crew on the Joshua Appleby, Gale was successfully returned to the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

Croft said the team watched the pilot whale swim away strongly after her release.

“This is a rescue that has the greatest story to it, because she was rescued, she was rehabilitated and she was returned back out to it’s natural environment,” Peterson said.

Gale's rescuers hope that Gale will find a pod to join. Pilot whales are very social and known to travel in massive groups, or pods, that sometimes contain up to several hundred whales.

The pilot whale was tagged with a satellite tracking device, part of Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. Researchers will be able to follow her movements and dive patterns for a few months.

Although known as pilot whales, the water mammals are actually part of the dolphin family.

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