Veterinarians ready for efforts to save ailing orca whale


An emaciated three-year-old orca that has become the focus of a cross-border rescue effort was spotted in US waters Wednesday afternoon.

While veterinarians are prepared to try delivering the experimental life-saving treatments in American waters, Paul Cottrell of Fisheries and Oceans Canada says officials are still wading through the paper work in Canada to make sure any efforts to treat the animal don't affect other members of her pod.

Losing J50 would be a serious blow for the southern resident killer whale population, which is made up of just 75 whales, as she is one of the few young females in the pod with the potential to reproduce.

J50 is a family member of a mother orca that recently carried her dead calf for hundreds of miles over at least 10 days.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada received the proposed rescue plan for its American counterparts on Friday, he said.

"J50 was staying close to her mum and was keeping up well, moving at a casual speed and undertaking what we call logging behaviour which is a resting behaviour with slow transits and movements, and small changes direction so we can't at this time say what specific direction the animals were going in", Thornton said.

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Researchers believe the whale is starving, and possibly suffering from some kind of infection. "We are hopeful that there's still a chance that we will be able to assist her with medical treatment and give her enough time to get nourishment and treat infections, if indeed that is what is causing her decline", Rowles said.

"Even if her family is foraging for and sharing fish with her, J35 can not be getting the nutrition she needs to regain any body-mass loss that would have naturally occurred during the gestation of her foetus and also additional loss of nutrition during these weeks of mourning", she added.

"It is very possible that she has succumbed at this point and that we may never see her again", Rowles told reporters Tuesday.

While it's not uncommon for southern resident killer whales to go unsighted for days, researchers were racing the clock to find J-pod because of the young whale's poor health. There are about six boats searching between Vancouver Island and Puget Sound.

American officials said the whale appeared lethargic and lost almost 20 per cent of its body mass.

The young orca was glimpsed again Wednesday swimming with her mother off the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, in US waters. What would be unique is giving the orca medication through live fish, Rowles said. She was the first orca to be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released back into the wild.