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

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

"It hasn't been done before so we'll have to quickly licence that and put in place".

"It's a great relief that she's still alive", said Paul Cottrell, marine mammals co-ordinator with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The goal Monday is to determine if J50 is in shape for an emergency provision of live fish, sluiced off the back of a boat, said Michael Milstein, spokesman for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.

Cottrell said the Canadian government was considering granting a special license to feed J50.

The calf was the first in three years to be born to the dwindling population of endangered southern resident killer whales, with only 75 members.

J-50 was last seen Friday in Canadian waters, but she and the rest of the J-pod have not been seen since.

Female orcas have had problems during pregnancy because of nutritional stress, and numerous calves who have been born in recent years have since died.

Scientists in both the United States and Canada are hoping they can feed medicated fish to a sick killer whale off Vancouver Island, a process that has approval in the US but not yet in Canada.

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

"If it's determined that antibiotics would be useful, then antibiotics through injection is going to be our best course rather than antibiotics through food because we recognize that we won't able to treat her every day", said Teri Rowles, marine mammal health and stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

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

But the race is still on as scientists try to get close to J50 and administer antibiotics, because the young while is believed to be starving and possibly suffering from infection.

Barre said operations testing for using live Chinook for nutritional support therapy and administering oral medication would be done with the Lummi tribe and the Whale Sanctuary Project - without whales present.

While it's not uncommon for southern resident killer whales to go unsighted for days, researchers were racing the clock to find J-pod because of the young whale's poor health. Cottrell says Canadian vessels are out on the waters off southwestern Vancouver Island but heavy fog is making the search hard.

American and Canadian scientists are considering a Hail Mary effort to save an endangered four-year-old killer whale, known as J50, which appears emaciated, lethargic and has lost about 20 per cent of its body weight.

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