Ailing killer whale 'J50' declared dead off Northwest US coast

14 September, 2018, 16:50 | Author: Darnell Taylor

By Thursday evening, however, there were still no sightings of J50 and the Center for Whale Research listed her as "presumed dead".

Scarlet is a three-year-old killer whale who was identified by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries to be in poor health in early August.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries service reported on September 8 that J50 was seen the day before at times "lagging a half-mile to a mile behind the rest of her family". But she later turned up and was seen with her family.

J50, a southern resident killer whale that had been sick for months, has not been seen by scientists since last Friday even though every other member of her family group has been observed several times in recent days. The West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network was also activated, and airlines flying in and out of islands in the area were on the look out.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US said teams on the water and pilots are looking for J50, who has not been seen in several days.

Anyone spotting J50 stranded on a beach was urged to call the Marine Mammal Incident Hotline in Canada at 1-800-465-4336 or the USA hotline for stranding reports at 1-866-767-6114. 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.

A multiagency search to find J50 was launched Thursday and people spent all day scouring the waters near Washington state and Canada for her. The pod has not produced viable offspring in three years.

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If J50 is dead, it's the second major loss for her pod this summer. 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.

Officials had hoped that J50, born in December 2014, might eventually reproduce and assist with the species' recovery. The NOAA said it is prepared to rescue J50 if she is separated from her pod or stranded.

He believes she died between last Friday and Monday.

Researchers have been monitoring J50 since noticing her emaciated state.

"She was like this little Energizer bunny that just keeps going and going, and definitely captured our hearts", he said.

J50's likely death is just another sign of the perilous situation the southern resident killer whale population is facing. "But I don't want to leave you in any false hope". Efforts to save the sick whale have not been successful.

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