Researcher who tracks whales says ailing orca likely gone

Christopher Davidson
September 14, 2018

The 3-year-old whale was last seen Sunday at Lime Kiln Point on the western shore of San Juan Island. Her family was seen Wednesday but J50 was not among them.

He said J50 has not been seen in recent days with her family.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said boats and planes in the USA and Canada are looking but that Balcomb usually makes such calls on missing whales because he keeps the population data. The West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network has been alerted, and airlines flying in and out of the San Juan Island are "on the lookout", according to Milstein.

The sick orca has received global attention. J50's condition has been getting worse and scientists were considering a last-ditch plan to capture the emaciated killer whale for treatment.

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The NOAA said teams have spotted the whale's pod -which includes J16, her mother - during their search but not J50.

"I think she is gone", said Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research, who keeps the population data on the southern residents and would make the official call on J50's status.

"(She) definitely captured our hearts, but I don't want to leave you with any false hopes, this is a very sick whale", he said.

The southern resident killer whales, which are so endangered there are just 75 individuals left, swim between Canadian and USA waters to Seattle and Vancouver ports through busy shipping lanes.

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