Scientists are still searching for the female killer whale known as J50 in an attempt to save her life.
Recovery coordinator Lynne Barre with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States says the four-year-old whale has not been seen since last week but appears to be emaciated and lethargic and has lost about 20 per cent of its body weight.
“We have not been able to implement our action that we planned at the end of the last week,” said Barre. “We are pulling resources together as we can and we are ready to continue with collecting samples of faeces and also observation.”
The J-pod of whales was last spotted on Saturday evening near the area between Jordan River and Sooke, B.C., although scientists did not see J50 at that time. Next time scientists see the whale, NOAA is prepared to do a veterinarian health assessment and have a variety of medical treatment options available to help the animal.
This whale is particularly important because J50 is one of just 75 remaining southern resident killer whales that travel the coastal waters from British Columbia to California.
One of the options that officials with both NOAA and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada are considering is feeding chinook salmon with medication in it to the underweight killer whale — a strategy that the U.S. department believes hasn’t been used before.
In order for this method to be most effective, however, Barre said that the whales would have to be spotted multiple days in a row. Still, she said that NOAA is evaluating this approach and could use live chinook salmon as a kind of temporary nutritional support therapy for J50 in addition to administering the medication.
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The scientists are still trying to figure out if it is even possible to get the medicated fish to J50 without having an impact on the other whales. NOAA is waiting for authorization to implement the plan.
Based on J50’s medical condition, there are concerns that time is running out to help the whale.
Kristin Wilkinson with NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program said that members of the Whale Sanctuary Project and the Lummi Nation will join the Northwest Fisheries Science Centre in performing a test run of this treatment option to work out any potential issues.
“Our understanding is that live fish may be ready as early as Tuesday with approximately 12 fish per day provided,” said Wilkinson.