Teams heading out to help ailing Northwest orca

Mourning orca mother still carrying dead calf more than two weeks later on 'tour of grief'
Mama orca carries dead calf for third week
Author

13 August, 2018

Researchers took breath samples, and a drone flown above the whales Wednesday showed that J50 is much skinnier and her body condition has gotten worse.

Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said they are anxious that the time and energy it spends carrying the body could take away from foraging or feeding.

Scientists used a dart to administer antibiotics to an ailing three-year-old killer whale Thursday, U.S. officials reported.

The female orca - known as J35 - has been clinging to her calf since it died on July 24, an image of grief that has struck an emotional chord worldwide.

"It is very possible that she has succumbed at this point and that we may never see her again", Teri Rowles, marine mammal health and stranding coordinator for National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, told journalists during a press phone briefing Tuesday. 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.

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.

As Tahlequah carries her deceased calf for a 17th straight day, and concerns mount about her health, taking the calf away is not an option because of the tight bond between Tahlequah and the rest of the pod to her baby - dead or alive, experts say.

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Mr Milstein says researchers with Fisheries and Ocean Canada also spotted another member of the same pod - the 3 ½-year old whale J50 that is emaciated.

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. "But it is it very, very, real", she said.

U.S. and Canadian scientists said they were concerned about the mother's condition and would keep monitoring her but have no plans to help her or remove the calf. The whale could then be given live salmon dosed with medication.

"I think it could have gone a little bit better and I would try things a little bit differently based on what we found", Haulena said.

The fish-eating orcas that frequent the inland waters of Washington state are down to 75 animals, and there has not been a successful birth since 2015. She was last seen Thursday still carrying the body. It returned to its family of whales in Canada later that year and in 2013 was seen with its new calf.

Experts attempting an unprecedented rescue effort to save an endangered killer whale off the West Coast have managed to inject the young orca with antibiotics.

"The fish would be distributed into the water in front of her", she said. It was fed live salmon in the pen.


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