Tuesday, 14 August, 2018

Scientists racing to find, save young killer whale

Lummi Hereditary Chief Bill James center, leads a blessing aboard a Lummi Nation Natural Resources Enforcement boat before departing Bellingham Emergency rescue efforts for endangered killer whale hit snag in Canada
Sandra Phillips | 09 August, 2018, 07:08

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.

NOAA has a plan to try and nurse Scarlet back to health, but it's a complicated one that depends on her condition.

Scientists worry that she only has days to live.

However, if the whale remains out of USA waters, she is at least for now beyond help - Canada has yet to provide any clearance to assist the whale, but is working on it, said Paul Cottrell, marine mammal coordinator for the Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Pacific Region.

The whales were too far away too late in the day to attempt a health assessment Wednesday afternoon, Milstein said.

J-pod recently drew an worldwide spotlight when another orca, J35, was spotted pushing the body of her dead calf through the water for more than a week.

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. Another female orca from the group that spends time in U.S. Northwest waters attracted global attention as the grieving animal tried to keep her dead baby afloat.

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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.

"If then things are going well and the behavior of the group and her responses to the (medication) is going OK, then they could move forward with the fish feeding trial", Rowles said.

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.

Researchers took breath samples, and a drone flown above the whales last week showed that J50 is much skinnier and her body condition has gotten worse. That data has documented orcas that declined and then disappeared.

But veterinarians haven't spotted the 3½-year-old female killer whale in several days.

"We want to determine how she reacts", Rowles said. The K pod has 18 whales and the L pod consists of 35 whales. She was the first orca to be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released back into the wild.

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