Sunday, 19 August, 2018

Ailing orca that sparked international rescue plan spotted in BC

Emergency rescue efforts for endangered killer whale hit snag in Canada Official says paperwork poses an issue to treat killer whale in Canadian waters
Sandy Nunez | 09 August, 2018, 23:54

J50, a four-year-old female southern resident killer whale, was spotted with other members of her pod including her mother off the coast of Port Renfrew Tuesday, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

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.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has mounted an emergency effort to administer medical care and food for J50 after worldwide attention focused last week on another member of the J Pod family, Tahlequah, seen carrying her dead calf around the Salish Sea for 10 days and hundreds of miles.

While the salmon-feeding idea has not yet received approval from Canadian officials, Cottrell says Canada is prepared to give the green light to a plan to administer antibiotics by dart or with a pole-mounted syringe, once it receives an application from its American counterparts.

The recent images of the mother orca pushing her dead calf and trying to keep it afloat in Northwest waters has given greater urgency to the fate of the whales, said Les Purce, co-chair of the task force.

The 4-year-old was part of the southern resident "baby boom" that occurred when eleven calves were born between 2014-2016. They are waiting for her to show up again in Washington state waters so they can zip out on a boat to do a health assessment, said Teri Rowles, marine mammal health and stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

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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". She said they believe an infection is playing a role.

USA biologists are racing to find the underweight 3-year-old animal to administer antibiotics either through food or by injection, but she could be dead or in Canada.

"We want to separate the antibiotic treatment from the fish feeding effort because we do not want her to associate with the fish feeding that she's going to get a shot", Rowles said. They may drop medicated fish next, if that goes smoothly.

NOAA and the Center for Whale Research cite multiple factors threatening the killer whales, including a diminishing Chinook salmon population - which is their preferred fish - as well as increased pollution, water traffic, and increased noise - which stresses out the whales and interferes their ability to reproduce.

It's not unusual for wild whales to be out of sight for some time, but J-50's condition was so poor it's not clear how long she has left. Cottrell says Canadian vessels are out on the waters off south west Vancouver Island but heavy fog is making the search hard.

Scientists in both the United States and Canada are hoping they can feed medicated fish to a sick killer whale off Vancouver Island, a process that has approval in the US but not yet in Canada.