Published: Sat, August 11, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

Endangered orca that sparked international rescue plan spotted in B.C. waters

Endangered orca that sparked international rescue plan spotted in B.C. waters

"I am absolutely shocked and heartbroken, " said Deborah Giles, research scientist for University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca, quoted by The Seattle Times.

The orca known as J50 appears emaciated and scientists have said she may have only days to live.

Scientists in Canada and the USA have been working together to save her life. The whale would initially get just a few fish to see whether she takes it and how she and members of her pod respond before deciding whether to give her salmon dosed with medication.

"There hasn't been an application by experts to [do] this in Canadian waters - the where, when, how", said Paul Cottell, marine mammal coordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

J50 and her brother in 2014.

The plight of J50 and J35's extended grieving process have focused global attention on the endangered southern resident killer whales, whose numbers have dwindled to 75. Her pod recently drew an worldwide spotlight when another whale, J35, was spotted pushing the body of her dead calf through the water for more than a week.

DFO research crews have been out on the water every day trying to locate J50.

On Tuesday, the whales were spotted in rough waters off Port Renfrew. J50 was with her mother, J16, and the rest of the pod. Then the whales disappeared back into the fog.

Cottrell said the Canadian government was considering granting a special license to feed J50.

Officials are working together to monitor the orca's health and develop a plan to intervene, if necessary. This involves collecting breath and stool samples and observing her behaviour.

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. Another female orca from the group that spends time in U.S. Northwest waters attracted global attention as the grieving animal tried to keep her dead baby afloat.

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. Researchers cite a shortage of chinook salmon as one of the main reasons for the orcas' decline.

"We don't know exactly what is wrong with her", Rowles said in a teleconference.

Canadian and American scientists are considering how to deliver potentially life-saving medication to a sick killer whale, identified as J-50.

The 3½-year-old orca is emaciated and may have an infection.

Like this: