Endangered orca that sparked international rescue plan spotted in B.C. waters

Endangered orca that sparked international rescue plan spotted in B.C. waters

The young female orca has sparked an worldwide rescue effort by Canadian and American scientists who have developed a novel plan to feed her salmon medicated with antibiotics.

The weather and the location of the orcas are complicating factors that could prevent intervention, said Paul Cottrell, a marine mammals co-ordinator with DFO.

A picture taken by Brian Gisborne of Fisheries and Oceans Canada shows J50 swimming with her mother, J16.

Cottrell couldn't say when the Canadian approvals would be in place, but said the process involves reviewing the proposal against the Species at Risk Act, consulting experts and considering regulations against feeding killer whales that were put in place to prevent habituation to humans.

"So when we undertake interventions, we will quite likely disturb not just J50, but other animals around J50", said Sheila Thornton, a scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

She is one of only 75 remaining southern resident killer whales that are found in coastal waters from British Columbia to California.

The almost four-year-old female southern resident killer whale is believed to be suffering from an infection that could kill her.

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"We do need to be very cognizant of what the effects of the treatment on J50 would be or what the potential adverse affects on her family members would be", she said. The only sighting Tuesday was between 3:52 and 4:31 p.m., when Canadian researchers saw J50, staying close to her mother, moving steadily along, and resting. What would be unique is giving the orca medication through live fish, Rowles said.

The first step before administering any antibiotics will be to assess J50's condition, once she is located again in appropriate conditions.

Veterinarians in the field will decide whether to give the ailing orca antibiotics, which would last between 10 and 14 days, using either a dart injector or a long pole syringe.

"We want to separate the antibiotic treatment from the fish feeding effort because we do not want her to associate with the fish feeding that she's going to get a shot", Rowles said.

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.

Barre said multiple boat teams were on standby Monday to be in the position to collect breath droplets and feces from J50, which could provide better diagnostic information for why this orca is in markedly worse condition and malnourished compared to her relatives.

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