Starving orca J50 finally spotted alive; emergency action could start Wednesday

Biologists are keeping a close watch on J50 a 4-year-old southern resident killer whale. The indentation behind her head is indicative of a whale that is starving because the animal lacks the fatty deposits behind the cranium that create the usual smooth

The youngest of the group, the southern resident killer whale that's known to marine scientists as J50 hasn't been seen for days, and even before she vanished, experts were anxious about her deteriorating health.

The whale is one of just 75 remaining southern resident killer whales.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries division, says researchers on Wednesday spotted the 20-year-old whale carrying her dead young off the tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

Veterinarians in the USA are prepared to try to deliver antibiotics by pole or dart - or feed her with medication-dosed Chinook salmon - if she's still in US waters when they locate her.

"We're using all the best information we have, as well as the experts that we've brought to help work on this team", she said.

At only three and a half years old, experts have said she has reproductive potential and could play a vital role in the southern residents' recovery if she survives.

"We don't know exactly what is wrong with her", Rowles said in a teleconference.

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The recent images of the mother orca pushing her dead calf and trying to keep it afloat in Northwest waters has given greater urgency to the fate of the whales, said Les Purce, co-chair of the task force. "We need to be very cognizant of what the effects of the treatment of J50 would be, or adverse effect on her or her family members would be".

Government biologists are considering giving her antibiotics through either food or injection.

If J50 is in American waters and needs antibiotics, Rowles said the next step will be to administer an antibiotic that lasts 10 to 14 days.

In the United States, biologists have prepared veterinary supplies, and dart and injection guns with antibiotics to rapidly respond when they see the killer whale. "We are hopeful that there's still a chance that we will be able to assist her with medical treatment to give her enough time to get nourishment and treat infections, if indeed that is what is causing her decline".

However, if things go well, J50 might receive further treatment of salmon laced with medication.

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. Cottrell says Canadian vessels are out on the waters off south west Vancouver Island but heavy fog is making the search hard.

Canadian and American scientists are considering how to deliver potentially life-saving medication to a sick killer whale, identified as J-50. She was the first orca to be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released back into the wild.

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