Emergency rescue efforts for endangered killer whale hit snag in Canada

Jan Cross
August 11, 2018

NOAA says it has legal authorization to try something it's never done before, which is feed the whale live medicated chinook salmon, as a way of delivering oral antibiotics.

The almost four-year-old female southern resident killer whale is believed to be suffering from an infection that could kill her. Paul Cottrell of Fisheries and Oceans Canada says a federal research team saw J50 Tuesday afternoon near Port Renfrew, B.C., but conditions were so foggy that they couldn't assess her condition. Past sightings of the whale suggest she is lethargic and fighting an infection.

"We do need to be very cognizant of what the effects of the treatment on J50 would be or what the potential adverse affects on her family members would be", she said.

One of the great concerns for the whale is that it is part of the endangered southern-resident orcas that have declined to a population of only 75.

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

However, if things go well, J50 might receive further treatment of salmon laced with medication.

J-50 was last seen Friday in Canadian waters, but she and the rest of the J-pod have not been seen since.

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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.

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

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.

"It was foggy up there for most of the day", Cottrell said.

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

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee established the task force in March to address the major factors affecting orca survival, including lack of prey, environmental contaminants and disturbance by vessels. It was hearing initial recommendations focused on three main threats to the orcas: lack of food, toxic contamination and boat noise and disturbance. Her pod recently drew an global spotlight when another whale, J35, was spotted pushing the body of her dead calf through the water for more than a week. Cottrell says Canadian vessels are out on the waters off southwestern Vancouver Island but heavy fog is making the search hard.

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