Search underway for sick orca whale

Clark Diaz
August 12, 2018

But no one has seen J-50 or her pod since Friday off Vancouver Island, said NOAA and Fisheries and Oceans Canada in an update Tuesday.

Sheila Thornton, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, says J50 was spotted with her mother but she could not say what direction they are travelling. She said they believe an infection is playing a role.

Feeding J50 by bringing her live chinook salmon caught by the Lummi Nation could begin as soon as Thursday, depending on whether the health assessment is accomplished Wednesday, and its outcome.

This is the largest rescue effort of a killer whale along the Canadian and American coast since 2002, when an orphaned northern resident killer whale known as Springer was captured and moved.

"She's still out in that same vicinity which puts her out just beyond the range, the reach of our teams", said Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which is working with the DFO on assisting the whale.

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The race to save J50, a female with the potential to reproduce, is considered crucial for the endangered southern resident killer whale population that stands at just 75 whales. J50 needs the nutrition not only for the calories, but to rehydrate her.

They'll decide then whether to administer antibiotics using a dart injector or a long pole syringe. The pod has been keeping to the outer coast and west end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and environs.

The search is on again for J50, the ailing killer whale, in a cross-border effort to save her life.

Rowles said such imagery has shed more light on the whales' overall body condition and growth over time.

Whale experts have been increasingly anxious about J50 after a researcher last month noticed an odour on the orca's breath, a smell detected on other orcas that later died.

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Conditions had improved Wednesday morning, with less fog, making researchers more hopeful the animals will be found.

While it's not uncommon for southern resident killer whales to go unsighted for days, researchers are racing the clock to find the J pod because of the young whale's poor health.

An endangered killer whale that has prompted an worldwide rescue effort won't receive antibiotics by dart or by fish if it's found in Canadian water today.

Biologists have also considered feeding the orca salmon enhanced with vitamins or medication to try and boost her health, which would have to be undertaken on a daily basis. What would be unique is giving the orca medication through live fish, she said. She was the first orca to be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released back into the wild.

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