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NOAA still looking for J50 so assessment can be done; J35 not seen in a few days

An active network of  citizen scientists, researchers, commercial whale watch operators and  private boaters are helping NOAA search for J50, a three-year-old member of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale pods, according to NOAA Fisheries Recovery Coordinator Lynne Barre. NOAA is conducting daily press conferences each morning this week. 

J50 when she was six-months-old July 2015. Photograph by Naturalist Clint "Showtime" RIvers, Eagle Wing Tours, Victoria, BC courtesy of PWWA

NOAA's plans for a team of veterinarians to  conduct a health assessment on J50 over the weekend didn't work out as the juvenile whale was not sighted in interior waters. They hope to be able to get breath and feces samples. More photographs and videos will also help NOAA assess the condition of the emaciated juvenile orca.

While waiting to interact with the emaciated orca, NOAA is working with members of the Lummi Tribe to test ways of funneling chinook salmon to the young whale. The Lummi will provide the live fish. 

As of yet, approval of a plans to feed and/or medicate the orca are being analyzed at NOAA headquarters. The work if approved would be done under the National Marine Mammal Health and Safety permit. A long-acting antibiotic could be provided through an injection or by putting the antibiotic in fish. 

Whatever is done, will be done with the minimal interaction possible, said Barre. 

In September 2017, J52 died. He appeared to have peanut-head syndrome, a sign of malnutrition. NOAA has been comparing photos of J52 to recent ones of J50. Barre said without the opportunity to do necropsies, the amount of information they have about the cause of death is limited. She encouraged people to contact NOAA if they come across whales washing up on the shore. 

While NOAA considers the situation with J50 urgent, they don't expect her to die within the next 24 to 36 hours. 

The three pods composing the SRKW population, J, K and L, eat primarily chinook salmon. According to Barre, the orcas are known for sharing their prey with each other. 

SRKW is down to only 75 members. Governor Jay Inslee's task force meets Tuesday, August 7 in Wenatchee to discuss orca recovery efforts. 

NOAA Regional Stranding Coordinator Kristin Wilkinson provided a brief update on J35 in answer to a question. The orca who has been keeping her dead calf afloat for more than 10 days was last sighted at the end of last week as the orcas were heading out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.





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