Emergency rescue efforts for endangered killer whale hit snag in Canada

Emergency rescue efforts for endangered killer whale hit snag in Canada

J Pod was seen off the south end of Vancouver Island by Canada's Fisheries and Oceans personnel late Tuesday.

J-50 is almost four years old and part of the critically endangered southern residents, a population of killer whales with only about 75 individuals.

Canadian and USA scientists are particularly anxious to save J50, a juvenile female that has the potential to reproduce and assist with the population's recovery.

"It's a great relief that she's still alive", said Paul Cottrell, marine mammals co-ordinator with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

She said it became evident that "we needed to intervene to determine potentially what was the cause and whether there was anything we could do to assist her". "We're hoping she's going to make it". As a young female, J50 holds particularly high value because of her future reproductive capacity.

The population of Southern Resident killer whales is down to 75 individuals.

"Even if her family is foraging for and sharing fish with her, J35 can not be getting the nutrition she needs to regain any body-mass loss that would have naturally occurred during the gestation of her foetus and also additional loss of nutrition during these weeks of mourning", she added.

"It is very possible that she has succumbed at this point, and we may never see her again", said Teri Rowles, marine mammal health and stranding program coordinator with NOAA.

On Tuesday, the whales were spotted in rough waters off Port Renfrew.

There has been no sign of J Pod, J50's family, in San Juan Island waters since Thursday.

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"As you can tell we've had a lot of challenges in seeing them daily", Milstein said. That data has documented orcas that declined and then disappeared. Biologists and veterinarians are standing by to do a health assessment, including taking samples of the whale's breath, and collecting her scat from the water.

Another possibility is administering a long-acting antibiotic with a pole injection system if they're able to get close enough to the orca.

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

Veterinarians in the US are prepared to try to deliver antibiotics by pole or dart - or feed her with medication-dosed Chinook salmon - if she's still in USA waters when they locate her.

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. What would be unique is giving the orca medication through live fish, Rowles said.

The work has been frustrated by fog, weather and the whale's location.

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.

"Hopefully, they are doing well and foraging and doing what they need to do".

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

The young orca was glimpsed again Wednesday swimming with her mother off the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, in US waters. She was the first orca to be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released back into the wild.

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