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Sick killer whale J-50 could be cared for in Canadian waters

Sick killer whale J-50 could be cared for in Canadian waters

The heartbreaking story about a grieving mother orca who has spent the past 16 days carrying the body of her dead calf has gained an enormous amount of attention.

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.

Scientists are reporting progress in the race to help an emaciated and endangered West Coast killer whale in the waters of the Salish Sea.

A team of veterinarians is now waiting in the state of Washington to try to approach the J-50 killer whale to give him antibiotics in U.S. waters.

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. It was last spotted Wednesday.

NOAA has a plan to try and nurse Scarlet back to health, but it's a complicated one that depends on her condition. NOAA would apply for the feeding permit if conditions are right, said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries' recovery coordinator for the whales.

"She was breathing very well; her respiratory rate was normal", he said.

"Our decision will be based on science and we will act quickly with our partners when conditions permit, to take appropriate action", the ministry said in a statement.

USA and Canadian officials acknowledged Thursday that they're concerned that J35's apparent grieving process could prevent her from foraging, but they have no plans to intervene at this point to remove the dead calf.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced late Thursday that response teams spotted J50, also known as Scarlet, and the rest of her pod of southern resident killer whales in Canadian waters and followed them into the USA near San Juan Island.

The fish-eating orcas that frequent the inland waters of Washington state are down to 75 animals, and there hasn't been a successful birth since 2015.

The whales face nutritional stress over a lack of Chinook salmon as well as threats from toxic contamination and vessel noise and disturbances.

Because Tahlequah was pregnant, it is possible she began carrying her deceased calf with an extra boost of lipids in her blubber that could be helping her now, said Dawn Noren, research fishery biologist at NOAA's Northwest Center in Seattle.

With the whale far away and a bin full of salmon pulled that morning from a state hatchery, crews did a practice run to work out the logistics of feeding live fish to a whale while staying ahead of it in a boat.

The Puget Sound calf was the first in three years to be born to the dwindling population of endangered southern resident killer whales.

"This is a novel undertaking", Hanson said.

He said a different needle could have been used to allow it to deliver the entire dose, but he didn't want the animal to have the needle remain with her for a few days or longer before it fell off. By the time biologists from the Center for Whale Research arrived at her side, the calf was dead.

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