Teams heading out to help ailing Northwest orca

John Durban  NOAA Fisheries FILE

Another female orca in the same pod has triggered an worldwide outpouring as she clings to the body of her dead calf that died two weeks ago.

Whale experts have been increasingly anxious about J50 after a researcher last month noticed an odor on the orca's breath, a smell detected on other orcas that later died.

Teams of whale experts are racing out to sea to help an ailing young killer whale spotted between the US and Canada.

"Progress!" Michael Milstein, a spokesman for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, said on the agency's Facebook page. The NOAA response team treated J50 with a long-acting broad-spectrum antibiotic through a dart while they await results of the whale's health assessment.

The team led by the US agency lacks a permit to feed the sick whale live salmon in Canadian waters, though it had one for medical treatment. It was last spotted Wednesday.

The tweet says the next step is to decide if trial feeding of J50 should proceed, although it says that will depend on the location of the pod, as well as water and weather conditions.

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A team set out Thursday and found the young whale alone, said Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Martin Haulena on a conference call with reporters Friday.

"Our goal is to see if this is a viable option to deliver medication", she said.

"Our decision will be based on science and we will act quickly with our partners when conditions permit, to take appropriate action", the ministry said in a statement.

"This is a novel undertaking", Hanson said.

US and Canadian officials acknowledged Thursday that they're concerned that J35's apparent grieving process could prevent her from foraging, but they have no plans to intervene at this point to remove the dead calf.

"We've been saying it for 20 years, the humans who have been studying these animals", Giles said, before noting that now "the animals themselves in the last three weeks, it's nearly like they've taken the torch".

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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.

They face nutritional stress over a lack of their preferred food source, Chinook salmon, as well as threats from toxic contamination and vessel noise and disturbances that disrupt their ability to communicate and forage. Researchers with the Whale Sanctuary Project took a sample of the fish scales so they can later genetically track whether the whales consume that fish, while other crews with the Lummi tribe scooped the salmon out of a large bin and sent it into the water.

A team of whale experts injected an ailing Southern Resident orca with antibiotics Thursday in a rare emergency effort to save her. In a remarkable demonstration of maternal affection viewed around the world, 30-year-old Tahlequah, went into mourning, sometimes carrying the dead baby calf on her back for hundreds of miles over the course of at least 10 days.

It is not known if her family is foraging for her and feeding her, Thornton said, and she could not get a good enough look at her from the water Wednesday to assess her condition.

The Puget Sound calf was the first in three years to be born to the dwindling population of endangered southern resident killer whales.

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