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Fecal sample shows J50's mother has parasites

Results are in from the fecal and breath samples collected by NOAA's team of researchers last month. Researchers had hoped the fecal sample was from J50, the three-year-old emaciated member of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population.

J16 breaching off the west side of San Juan Island in August. 

Photo by Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries, under permit 18786.

Genetic analysis revealed that one fecal sample was from J16, J50's mother. The sample showed evidence of parasitic worms. Since J16 catches fish that she then shares with J50, the veterinary team prioritized treating J50 with a dewormer, following antibiotics.

Two antibiotic injections have been given to the young orca. The first didn't deliver a full dose as it "bounced" off the whale. A different type of dart was used to deliver the second dose on September 4, 2018.

A second fecal sample was identified as coming from J27, an adult male.

Researchers at Northwest Fisheries Science Center extracted DNA from the breath sample collected on August 9, 2018. While the sample was small and yielded little DNA, researchers are adapting their analysis to make the most of the available material.

NOAA is spearheading extraordinary measures to improve the health of the young orca. The SRKW population is down to 75 members from a population of 98 in 1995. 

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