Researchers have lead on cause of distressed killer whale J-50's illness

USA researchers have examined samples gathered from an ailing three-year orca swimming off the West Coast and say a parasite may be the reason the young killer whale is so thin.

The three-year-old whale, known as J50 or Scarlet, has been under scrutiny since June when researchers noticed that she appeared malnourished.

The team of whale experts closely monitoring an ailing Southern Resident orca in northwest waters passed another hurdle in their efforts to save the sick whale.

Results from fecal samples taken from 3-year-old J-50 are starting to come in from laboratories from across the country.

NOAA says the worm is usually not an issue for healthy animals, but can pose problems for animals that are experiencing other issues or that are emaciated. The parasites can penetrate the stomach lining or other internal organs, introducing bacteria to the bloodstream.

The NOAA said researchers can not be sure the sample came from J50, but the veterinary team has made it a priority to administer antibiotics and a dewormer - both of which have been successful in other whales.

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Out of caution, NOAA is updating J50's treatment plan to include a de-wormer to fight parasites and help reduce bacterial infection. On Friday, the pod was still in open waters off Vancouver Island and beyond the reach of response teams.

The whales are now in open waters off the west side of Vancouver Island, and will have to return to the coast before response teams can act.

But Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other partners are watching for the whales' return, the NOAA said.

J-50 swims with her pod.

Earlier this month, scientists attempted to feed the killer whale live chinook salmon off a boat following a novel antibiotic treatment by dart at sea. If perfected, the technique could be used to administer medication to J50 in the future.

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