Published: Mon, August 13, 2018
Sci-tech | By Javier West

Endangered orca that sparked global rescue plan gets first treatment

Endangered orca that sparked global rescue plan gets first treatment

Another female orca in the same pod has triggered an global outpouring as she clings to the body of her dead calf that died two weeks ago.

The female orca known as J35 has been clinging to its calf since it died July 24, an image of grief that has struck an emotional chord worldwide.

Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale scientist with Fisheries Oceans Canada, said the whale looks more like a 2-year-old though it has always been small for her age.

Scientists and researchers are in a race against time, struggling to save an ailing 3-year-old killer whale named Scarlet which has gone missing.

Scientists on both sides of the border have been working together on an emergency rescue plan for a young female orca known as J50, that appears emaciated but continues to swim alongside her mother. "That is not on the table", said Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. The NOAA response team treated J50 with a long-acting broad-spectrum antibiotic through a dart while they await results of the whale's health assessment.

Fearing that J50's fate will be the same if they don't intervene, scientists are considering multiple strategies created to save the starving whale, including feeding her live salmon dosed with medication at sea.

"All we have to go by is her physical condition and her decline in physical condition", Rowles said.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman with NOAA Fisheries, told KIRO that researchers with Fisheries and Ocean Canada also spotted another member of the same pod on Wednesday.

A team set out Thursday and found the young whale alone, said Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Martin Haulena on a conference call with reporters Friday.

"I do stress this is a very thin whale", Haulena said, noting that others in the same condition have not survived.

"Removing the calf would be a very, very hard decision, and obviously we would have to take many factors into consideration, so that's now not on the table", she said.

The earliest the weather is forecasted to clear up is Sunday, Hanson said, and the plan will be easier if the whales move closer to the coast.

But they don't plan to intervene to help a mother orca in the same critically endangered pod that also has them anxious. What would be unique is giving the orca medication through live fish, Rowles said. "I'm not even sure we would be successful". The Center for Whale Researchers confirmed that she was still seen pushing the now-deteriorating corpse of her newborn calf.

It was hearing initial recommendations focused on three main threats to the orcas: lack of food, toxic contamination and boat noise and disturbance.

An global team of experts is waiting to get close to the 3½-year-old killer whale known as J50 so they can carry out a step-by-step emergency plan that includes giving her antibiotics or feeding live salmon at sea. The idea is to do a trial run with live salmon, releasing the fish through a chute about 50 to 100 yards in front of the orca.

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

Like this: