High levels of Contracaecum, a nematode parasite that is commonly found in killer whales and other marine mammals, was found in the fecal sample collected from a group of Southern Resident Killer Whales - J50, J16, J42 - last weekend in the Salish Sea. The parasite is not usually a problem in healthy animals, however, in an orca in an emaciated condition such as J50 the parasite can penetrate the stomach lining, introducing bacterial infection to the bloodstream, or it can bore into internal organs.
Researchers gathering breath sample from J50 earlier this month.
The sample was collected by the NOAA Response team that is working to save the ailing three-year-old female orca. While researchers cannot be sure the sample came from J50, the veterinary team has updated her treatment priorities to include antibiotics and a dewormer. Both have proven successful and safe in other cetaceans.
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.
The proposed treatment should help J50 by reducing bacterial and parasitic burdens on her system so she can start regaining the weight she has lost. As of Friday, August 17, the whales remain in open waters off the west side of Vancouver Island, beyond the reach of the response teams.
An antibiotic was injected using a dart gun earlier this month. The syringe bounced a bit and about half the dosage was successfully injected.
A fish-feeding trial - dropping live Chinook salmon through a tube into the water about 100 meters in front of J50 - was performed August 12. Members of the Lummi Nation released eight salmon.
NOAA Fisheries Research Biologist Brad Hanson said, "We did not see her directly taking fish. We just saw her continue to buck into the tide." The fish may have gone past her too fast due to the strong current, he said.
The test was conducted to determine if medication could be given to J50 through medicated fish.
- What's SeaWorld got to do with it?
- Profits or protection? Killer whales in the San Juan Islands
- J50 Update: NOAA stops active search, Stranding Network still on alert
- NOAA still holding out hope for J50, Sept 15 meeting in Friday Harbor still on
- NOAA and partners still looking for J50
- Help sought to find j50
- NOAA may capture J50 if she is left behind by J Pod; public meeting Sept. 15 in Friday Harbor
- J50 lagging behind J Pod; no dewormer shot yet
- Fecal sample shows J50's mother has parasites
- UPDATE: J50 spotted with J Pod
- Update on J50: More injections planned - antibiotic and dewormer
- NOAA tried to feed J50 off of the west side of San Juan Island
- Updates on J50: Still with her pod
- 'Very, very thin' killer whale injected with antibiotics near the San Juan Islands
- Update August 9 on efforts to assess/medicate J50
- Update August 8 on J50
- Update on efforts to help J50
- NOAA still looking for J50 so assessment can be done; J35 not seen in a few days
- NOAA checking J50's health Aug. 5; decision Monday on action
- J52 "Sonic" died - 3rd of 6 "2015 baby boom" orca to die
- Update on killer whale "Class of 2015"
- All four baby orcas doing well especially J50
- Update on J50 ,J51 and L121
- J51 and J50 spotted swimming with their moms
- Another orca calf in J pod
- New calf sighted in J pod.