Grieving orca still carrying her dead calf more than two weeks later

John Durban  NOAA Fisheries FILE

John Durban NOAA Fisheries FILE

The orca is thin and in poor body condition. The experts now have authorization to intervene with medical treatment in both US and Canadian waters once the critically endangered orca shows up again in the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said they are anxious that the time and energy she spends carrying the body could take away from foraging or feeding.

NOAA Fisheries says the worldwide team reached 3 1/2-year-old orca known as J50 Thursday in the waters near Washington state's San Juan Island.

An global team of experts has been waiting for an opportunity to get close to the female killer whale so they can carry out an emergency plan that includes giving her antibiotics or feeding her live salmon at sea.

The calf was born July 24, but died soon after.

Wednesday's spotting was the first time the pair had been seen since last week.

The U.S. and Canada have no plans to remove J50 from her pod in order to feed or medicate her, as that would likely cause too much stress to J50 and her pod.

Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA is standing by at Friday Harbor, along with a team of vets and biologists to venture out on the waters to examine her closely.

"Obviously the connection they've formed with this calf is substantial and it's something that we do have to take into account", he said.

The fish-eating orcas that frequent the inland waters of Washington state are down to 75 animals, and there hasn't been a successful birth since 2015.

Veterinarians who are racing out to try to assess J50, the sick whale, will decide whether to give her antibiotics using either a dart injector or a long pole syringe.

NOAA Fisheries and partner organizations are exploring options ranging from no intervention at all to providing medical treatment, potentially delivered via a live Chinook salmon for J50 to eat, a treatment method never before been attempted in the wild, the agency said.

Scientists on both sides of the border have been working together on an emergency rescue plan for a young female orca known as J50, that appears emaciated but continues to swim alongside her mother.

The earliest the weather is forecasted to clear up is Sunday, Hanson said, and the plan will be easier if the whales move closer to the coast.

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