Missing southern resident killer whale J50 declared dead by scientists

Olive Hawkins
September 14, 2018

J50 is part of a family group known as J-pod, which also includes the mother orca who gained worldwide attention for carrying her dead newborn calf in an apparent display of mourning that lasted 17 days.

We are saddened to report that J50 is missing and now presumed dead.Her last known sighting was Friday, September 7 by... The whales have been struggling with a dearth of their preferred prey, salmon, as well as pollution and boat noise.

Efforts to find a sick young orca from a critically endangered population of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest came up empty Thursday, and a scientist who tracks the animals declared her dead - though federal authorities said they'd keep looking.

She was also not seen on Thursday, where 60 whales from J, K, and L pod were seen off Oak Bay and near Race Rocks.

Ken Balcomb, the founding director of the US-based Center for Whale Research, told the Seattle Times he believes the whale is dead. "If we are unable to restore the salmon that these orcas need, more whales will starve to death". The joint Canada-U.S. rescue team has twice used a dart to inject the whale with antibiotics, but her condition appeared to be worsening before she disappeared.

On Wednesday, experts intensified their efforts, announcing a last-ditch attempt to save J50: Capturing her and treating her in temporary captivity until she could be rehabilitated, the Associated Press reported.

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The distinctive black-and-white orcas, known as southern resident killer whales, have struggled since they were listed as an endangered species in the USA and Canada well over a decade ago.

The high-profile cases have focused worldwide attention on the plight of southern resident killer whales, whose numbers have dwindled to 75 and now - if J50 has died - to 74 in three pods. Her mother, J16, has also declined in condition in the past month.

Given the death of Tahlequah's baby, who was also a female capable of reproduction, biologists and government officials began working fervently to devise ways to nurse J50 back to health, or risk losing another potential mother.

On its website, the NOAA said it was increasing its search boundaries Thursday with its "on-water partners and counterparts in Canada".

Researchers have launched a search for a sick killer whale that hasn't been seen in days. We have alerted the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which is a tremendous resource in such situations.

Joseph Gaydos, a wildlife veterinarian with the SeaDoc Society in Washington state, saw J50 a week ago and described her as the thinnest killer whale he'd ever seen.

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