Emergency rescue efforts for endangered killer whale hit snag in Canada

Maricruz Casares
Agosto 9, 2018

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.

"This is unprecedented in terms of what is occurring and some of the methodologies haven't been done on killer whales and it's an endangered population", Cottell said.

Scarlet is the youngest southern resident killer whale among a group of 75 that feed in the waters off of Alaska and northern California, but when scientists were last able to evaluate her condition, she was underweight and had an infection, Rowles said during the press call.

However, added Teri Rowles, the marine mammal health and stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries division, "it is very possible she may have succumbed" since then.

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.

While it's not uncommon for southern resident killer whales to go unsighted for days, researchers were racing the clock to find J-pod because of the young whale's poor health. Only five of the calves from the "baby boom" remain. "It's fantastic. We're hoping she's going to be OK".

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An aerial photograph of adult female Southern Resident killer whale J16 with her calf (J50) in 2015, when the calf was in its first year of life.

Researchers took breath samples, and a drone flown above the whales last week showed that J50 is much skinnier and her body condition has gotten worse. This tactic has never before been attempted in the wild, NOAA fisheries experts wrote on the agency's website.

"What they're working on this morning.to determine which method they're going to use, [is] based on the dose that they have configured for her", Rowles told ABC News on Tuesday.

The young female orca has sparked an worldwide rescue effort by Canadian and American scientists who have developed a novel plan to feed her salmon medicated with antibiotics.

Rowles said injections of antibiotics or sedatives have been given to other free-swimming whales or dolphins that were injured or entangled but it hasn't been done for free-swimming whales in this area.

"The fish would be distributed into the water in front of her", she said.

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