Veterinarians from both Canada and the U.S. have been working together for the past week to figure out the best way to help the emaciated three-year-old juvenile orca called J50.
Aerial images of Southern Resident killer whale juvenile J50, taken in 2017 (left) and August 1st 2018 (right) for comparison. Note in the recent image she has lost body condition revealing a very thin profile, and noticeable loss of fat behind the head creating a “peanut head” appearance. Images obtained with an unmanned drone, piloted non-invasively (greater than )100 ft above the whales under NMFS research permit #19091.
Staff from NOAA and the Canada Department of Oceans and Fisheries (DF0) held a press conference Tuesday, August 7, 2018 regarding the efforts to help the young member of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population. There are only 75 members total in the three pods that comprise the SRKW population.
J-pod hasn't been sighted since Friday when it was seen in Canadian waters. Paul Cottrell of DFO said fog has been hampering efforts to spot the whales.
Today, Tuesday, August 7, response teams are walking through the steps that will be taken once the young whale is spotted in a place that is accessible and safe for interaction.
Dr. Teri Rowles of NOAA National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program said there are veterinarians ready to proceed with a health assessment including taking samples of breath and feces.
There are two possible methods of providing a long-acting (10 to 14 days) antibiotic to the whale. One is by using a pole and the other is using a dart gun. The veterinarians are set up to do either method. The decision on whether to give J-50 antibiotics will be made on scene. The NOAA staff have legal permission to do so in U.S. waters.
They are also planning on a fish-feeding trial. A number of live chinook salmon provided by the Lummi Nation will be released from a boat approximately 50 to 100 meters in front of J-50. The trial will not take place simultaneously with the injection of antibiotics as the scientists don't want the whale to associate the fish with the injection. The purpose of the trial is to see if it would be possible in the future to give antibiotics through feeding medicated fish to the whales.
If and when the fish trial takes place, it will be documented with recording equipment aboard vessels and drones. The reaction of the other whales is an important component of the trial.
Another update will take place Wednesday morning.
A webpage where updates on both J50 and J35 (the orca mother who has been keeping her dead calf afloat) is available here.
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