Grieving killer whale carries dead calf for over two weeks

Katy Foster  NOAA Fisheries

Vancouver Aquarium's head veterinarian, Dr. Martin Haulena, examined the orca.

The 3 1/2-year-old orca is thin, in poor body condition and may have an infection.

Much of the observation of J35 is due to the fact that another of her podmates, J50, is ailing, and researchers are trying to intervene with that whale's medical care.

When conditions were right, the team of American and Canadian biologists and vets didn't hesitate.

If you'd like to be a part of the solution to saving these lovely whales, one easy step you can take is to reduce or completely do away with your personal consumption of seafood.

"This type of grief in people often goes underground, it's, 'It's just a dog, an animal, move on.' People go underground with these feelings, they are delegitimized".

The treatment appears to be the first time an orca has been medicated remotely in the wild.

Sheila Thornton with Fisheries and Oceans Canada says scientists are becoming concerned that the whale's behaviour will interfere with her ability to forage, but no intervention in planned.

Those samples have been sent for analysis, specifically for harmful bacteria and fungi from the airway. But I'm hopeful that she will bounce back'.

"While we wait for the results, we are treating what is treatable", said Haulena. She's probably lost two more in the past decade. However, the focus this week has been on J50, so no assessment of J35's condition has been done.

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For now, researchers and veterinarians working to treat J50 will continue to monitor J35, looking closely at her for skin lesions, any changes in the way she swims or surfaces or major changes in her breath, which could indicate that she is metabolizing lipids.

"I am sobbing. I can't believe she is still carrying her calf around", Ms Giles said. "The other concern is that she might be food-limited".

This most recent orca death represents another reproductive failure for the salmon-eating southern resident killer whales that typically show up in Puget Sound waters from spring to fall.

A federally organized response team was able to administer antibiotics to the ailing, "very skinny" 3-year-old orca J50 in USA waters near San Juan Island on Thursday, NOAA announced Thursday night.

The carcass is "surprisingly intact", she said. She rejoined her group. We know she has something significant going on.

That plan does not yet have approval for use in Canadian waters.

DFO is asking that boaters and whale watchers maintain a 500-metre buffer zone around J50.

"I certainly think the length of the situation is unprecedented", Thornton said. "That will be to the benefit of this animal".

Teams taking drastic measures to save a young, ailing killer whale loaded up two boats with live fish and rushed to waters near an island off Washington state Friday, preparing if needed to feed the critically endangered orca a day after injecting it with medicine.

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