Euthanasia of stranded large whales poses logistic, safety, pharmaceutical, delivery, public relations, and disposal challenges. Reasonable arguments may be made for allowing a stranded whale to expire naturally. However, slow cardiovascular collapse from gravitational effects outside of neutral buoyancy, often combined with severely debilitating conditions, motivate humane efforts to end the animal's suffering. The size of the animal and prevailing environmental conditions often pose safety concerns for stranding personnel, which take priority over other considerations. When considering chemical euthanasia, the size of the animal also necessitates large quantities of euthanasia agents. Drug residues are a concern for relay toxicity to scavengers, particularly for pentobarbital-containing euthanasia solutions. Pentobarbital is also an environmental concern because of its stability and long persistence in aquatic environments. We describe a euthanasia technique for stranded mysticetes using readily available, relatively inexpensive, preanesthetic and anesthetic drugs (midazolam, acepromazine, xylazine) followed by saturated KCl delivered via custom-made needles and a low-cost, basic, pressurized canister. This method provides effective euthanasia while moderating personnel exposure to hazardous situations and minimizing drug residues of concern for relay toxicity.
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Vol. 50 • No. 1