Ailing orca J50 declared dead, but feds to keep looking

Mindy Sparks
September 14, 2018

David Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research via AP J35, also known as Tahlequah, pushed her dead calf around the Pacific Northwest for more than two weeks in what was widely seen as a mourning ritual. The last known sighting of the 3-year-old orca was on September 7, researchers said. The orcas have struggled with pollution, boat noise and, most severely, a dearth of their preferred prey, chinook salmon, because of dams, habitat loss and overfishing.

Whale experts feared the orca was dead earlier this month when J50 lagged behind her family and went missing.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said boats and planes in the USA and Canada are looking but that Balcomb usually makes such calls on missing whales because he keeps the population data.

"It was striking to me how thin she was. she is the thinnest killer whale I've ever seen", said Gaydos.

Ken Balcomb, head of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island in Washington state said the ailing orca who was being treated by scientist since early August was last seen Friday afternoon off the west side of the islands and hasn't been seen since. "If we are unable to restore the salmon that these orcas need, more whales will starve to death".

"Unfortunately J50 has not been seen in several days of favourable conditions and sightings of her pod and family group, including J16, her mother".

Still, she survived, and for a while restored hope that she could help her pod - part of an embattled population of southern resident killer whales known to frequent the waters near Washington state - to rebuild their numbers. The grieving mother, an orca called Tahlequah, made worldwide headlines over the summer when she carried her baby's body for at least 17 days, bringing global attention to the plight of her pod. They said the controversial step would only be taken as a last resort to treat the whale and release her back to the wild.

Scientist began to be concerned about J50 in July.

The young orca, once known for her propensity to breach by launching her body out of the water, has become sickly and emaciated in recent months. "This is a very sick whale".

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said the agency gives great weight to Balcomb's assessment of the whales, given his long experience monitoring them. "We haven't given up hope".

J50's likely death is just another sign of the perilous situation the southern resident killer whale population is facing.

"The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J50 for the past three days". The search at this point is just a matter of protocol, he said.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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