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Biologists Plan Rescue Mission For Endangered Orca
13 August 2018, 03:31 | Brenda Erickson
Scarlet is among a group of endangered rapidly dwindling Southern Resident killer whales that frequent the Pacific Northwest
The 3 1/2-year-old orca is thin, in poor body condition and may have an infection.
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.
The teams were, however, racing out to sea to help another ailing young killer whale in the same critically endangered pod.
The U.S. and Canada have no plans to remove J50 from her pod in order to feed or medicate her, as that would likely cause too much stress to J50 and her pod.
The team led by the USA agency lacks a permit to feed the whale, which is emaciated and possibly suffering an infection, in Canadian waters, though it had one for medical treatment. The team of experts who followed the whale on the water for about six hours Thursday got a breath sample to analyze whether she might have bacteria or fungus in her airway.
That plan may include dumping live salmon doused with antibiotics in front of the whale, hoping she'll eat them.
J35 was spotted Wednesday carrying her dead calf, marking the 16th day of her "tour of grief". NOAA would apply for the feeding permit if conditions are right, said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries' recovery coordinator for the whales.
The Vancouver Aquarium's head veterinarian, Dr. Martin Haulena, was on the vessel assessing and treating the whale, according to statements from the aquarium and NOAA.
"What they're working on this morning...to determine which method they're going to use, [is] based on the dose that they have configured for her", Rowles told ABC News on Tuesday.
"It is very possible she has succumbed at this point and we may never see her again", Rowles said.
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Experts have been watching the young whale lose weight since June and they took the novel action in an effort to prevent the loss of more reproductive potential within the population.
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. "I'm not even sure we would be successful". Researchers with the Whale Sanctuary Project took a sample of the fish scales so they can later genetically track whether the whales consume that fish, while other crews with the Lummi tribe scooped the salmon out of a large bin and sent it into the water.
The last time scientists rescued a killer whale in the region was in 2002, when they rehabilitated an orca known as Springer who was found alone.
One of the problems affecting whales is the lack of salmon, their main source of food due to overfishing for commercial consumption.
An global team of experts has been waiting for an opportunity to get close to the female killer whale so they can carry out an emergency plan that includes giving it antibiotics or feeding it live salmon at sea. The Center for Whale Researchers confirmed that she was still seen pushing the now-deteriorating corpse of her newborn calf. By the time biologists from the Center for Whale Research arrived at her side, the calf was dead.
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Mr Hanson said Springer's case was different because she was isolated.
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