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NOAA may capture J50 if she is left behind by J Pod; public meeting Sept. 15 in Friday Harbor

J50’s condition in recent weeks has underscored the urgency of recovering the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population. NOAA Fisheries and  partners have been exploring and taking action to save J50 because of her importance as a contributing member of this population, and particularly to J Pod.

J50 near San Juan Island on September 7, 2018.

Photo by Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries, under permit 18786-03. 

The public has a stake in the J50 response and the recovery of Southern Resident killer whales and NOAA understands many people are concerned. NOAA wants to know what people in the region think about this effort and potential steps so they are holding two public meetings in Washington State to hear the public’s views:

San Juan Island:  at 7 p.m. Saturday, September 15 at Friday Harbor High School

Seattle: at 1 p.m. Sunday, September 16 at University of Washington, Haggett Hall Cascade Room

J50 follows her mother, J16, on Aug. 18, 2018.

Photo by Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries, under permit 18786

J50’s condition has declined over recent months to the point where she is emaciated and often lagging behind her family. Field treatment has not improved her condition, and veterinarians believe they have exhausted all reasonable remote treatment options and her survival is unlikely.

The next steps could include further intervention, such as a rescue operation and conducting a hands-on physical examination. That could lead to more in-depth diagnoses, rapid treatment, and return to the water or short-term rehabilitation and care to improve her chances of survival, with the ultimate goal of reuniting her with her family.

Two objectives will determine any further intervention to help J50:

Providing appropriate conservation medical actions for J50 to protect her potential contribution to the recovery of the population, and

Avoiding harm to the rest of J Pod and the Southern Resident population of 75 whales.

No rescue would proceed while J50 remains with J Pod and her family group. Response teams would act to rescue J50 only if she becomes stranded or separated from the rest of J Pod such that any risks of the intervention to the rest of J Pod are minimized.

The overriding priority of any rescue intervention would be to evaluate, treat, and rehabilitate J50 in a manner that would support the greatest chance of her survival while ensuring her return and reunification with her family as soon as possible so she can contribute to long-term recovery of the population.

If veterinarians and other experts who assess J50 in the field determine that she cannot be treated or rehabilitated, teams would promptly return her to J Pod to spend the rest of her life with her family.

J50 is a three-year-old female orca, a member of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population. Her condition hasn't improved after two doses of anti-biotics. A fish-feeding trial was also done to see if that might be a means to provide medication in the future.  J50 wasn't observed eating the fish. 

A Lummi Nation vessel releases live salmon ahead of J50 during feeding trial on Aug. 12, 2018. Photo by Candace Emmons/NOAA Fisheries, under permit 18786

For further details of the effort to save J50 and intervention, please visit our J50 webpage on NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region website at bit.ly/NOAAJ50J35.

In the meantime, the public can submit questions and comments to NOAA Fisheries by emailing KillerWhale.Help@noaa.gov.



  • Jean Behnke Thursday, 13 September 2018 13:09 Comment Link Report

    Many believe we are witnessing an extinction of these mammals. It is our responsibility to establish a sanctuary zone in the Southern Resident Killer Whale habitat on the west coast of San Juan Island and in Haro Strait if they are to have a slight chance at survival or provide a peaceful place to die.

    We are ALL the reason they are dying before us: we are the ferry riders, marine polluters, whale watchers, the "naturalists", recreational boaters, we are a few selfish fisherman, scientists, researchers, we are captains of commercial vessels- and all of us entrenched in our opinions, safe guarding the ways we make a "living".

    NOAA, a branch of our government that we fund, continues to throw reactionary aid at an environmental emergency. Real protection would not come in the form of medicated darts, deadly tagging, torture in the form of orca capture but real protection would come in immediately ruling to provide marine sanctuary, breach the necessary dams to create orca food and protect our once pristine waters from pollution and marine disturbance.

    In 2015 NOAA paved the way for the US Navy to conduct testing in SRKW habitat waters. Destructive Naval training and testing activities are now being conducted from 2015 through 2020. "The NWTT Study Area is composed of established maritime operating and warning areas in the eastern north Pacific Ocean region, to include the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and Western Behm Canal in southeastern Alaska. The activities conducted within the NWTT Study Area are classified as military readiness activities. The Navy states that these activities may expose some of the marine mammals present within the NWTT Study Area to sound from underwater acoustic sources and explosives." *

    *from archived documents: "Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; U.S. Navy Training and Testing Activities in the Northwest Training and Testing Study Area
    Final Rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 11/24/2015.

    There has been more than enough research, enough science, enough meetings and ongoing debate especially from special interest groups, and more than enough LACK of accountability from the whale watching industry locally and from Canada. The debate is over, it is time to shut off the excruciatingly loud engines powering oversized metal-hulled monstrous boats. Whale watching operators could make a fine living being GOOD STEWARDS of these last 75 mammals. Thousands and thousands of rack cards on ferries and in terminals and digital publicity world-wide has drawn a flood of tourists to this sensitive marine environment- whale watching industry has earned plenty of money from an endangered species.

    As Stewards on SHORE, they can educate how these magnificent Orcas are living their final chapter after thousands and thousands of years. Visitors, if you have to watch so intensely, you can WATCH from SHORE. Stay out of the SRKW habitat and record every second of their majestic lives on your iphones from the SHORELINE on your own habitat. Let the Orcas come to you, they used to want to.

    TO NOAA, from L.P. in 2017
    It is NOAA's responsibility to enact management actions that protect the federally listed as endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales(SRKWs). SRKWs are one of only eight Spotlight species of 1,652 on the Endangered Species list. Spotlight species are considered most at risk of extinction unless immediate action is taken to stabilize and recover their populations. Establishing a whale protection zone on the west side of San Juan Island appears to be the most immediate and effective action available to NOAA to address the impacts to SRKWs from vessel noise and to support and enhance their ability to feed.
    A monitoring and adaptive
    management plan should be
    included as part of any
    decision to establish a whale
    protection zone.

    from ORCA NETWORK-
    "Remember J35, just a month ago, was mourning the loss of her newborn calf, carrying her around for 17 days, grieving the loss of her calf and not letting go. All Southern Resident orca calves stay with their moms for life, and the mother-calf bond in Resident orca pods is closer than we humans can likely imagine.

    We all want Scarlet/J50 to survive and be healthy, there is nothing we want more. But we also need to consider the stress and trauma caused to J50 and her family through weeks of attempted treatment. J50 is so emaciated, and has been sick for so long, the odds of her surviving the stress of a capture and treatment for an as yet unknown disease seem small. Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research has observed J50 foraging, and her pod feeding her salmon, as they often share salmon with other family members.

    NOAA did the right thing with J35, and did not take her newborn calf from her after it died, and J35 did not let go. What would J16/Slick do, if her live, nearly four year old calf were taken from her? How would the rest of J50's pod and extended family react? NOAA has stated they would only capture J50 if she live stranded or was separated from her pod. J50 has been seen often traveling with her family, but at times falling behind, sometimes by a mile. However, if Scarlet is captured and her family is within about ten miles, they will hear her distressed calls and respond.

    We have all seen photos and videos of Southern Resident orca pods during captures in the 60s and 70s, when calves were being separated from their moms. None of the orcas would leave the area until the very last captured whale was lifted from the water and driven off on a flatbed.

    We ask that you think about what is best for J50 and her family. We all need to ask questions to make sure that whatever the plan is for J50, that it considers the ongoing trauma and stress on she and her family and the odds of whether or not treatment will actually help her survive.

    Similar attempts by NOAA Fisheries recently to help the Vaquita in Mexico resulted in a critically endangered Vaquita being captured and not surviving. There are lessons to be learned from that experience.

    We must also not take our attention off the bigger picture for the future of ALL Southern Resident orcas, and keep urging NOAA and other Federal and State agencies to make the hard decisions and take bold action to save Chinook salmon, in every way they can. "

  • Karen Luckmann Thursday, 13 September 2018 11:22 Comment Link Report

    I think saving her in anyway possible is a great idea! Also, getting Salmon to these Whales is also very important!
    Please save the WHALES!

  • Elizabeth Groceries Wednesday, 12 September 2018 12:18 Comment Link Report

    Here's a bright idea how about open up the damn dams so the whales can eat Salmon. Why are the dams closed? Open them up NOW!!!

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