Researcher who tracks whales declares orca dead

Christopher Davidson
September 16, 2018

The grieving mother, an orca called Tahlequah, made worldwide headlines over the summer when she carried her baby's body for at least 17 days, bringing global attention to the plight of her pod.

Whale experts feared the orca was dead earlier this month when J50 lagged behind her family and went missing, but she later turned up and was seen with her family.

'We want to make the most of it to make sure that if J50 is there, we haven't missed her, ' Mr Milstein said. "At what point are we doing more harm than good?" "And we are determining that day by day, we are not setting a timeline".

The loss of J50 would bring the number of southern resident killer whales to just 74 animals.

Last seen September 7, the 3-year-old whale was not with her family on several sightings in local waters around the San Juan Islands, including a superpod gathering Thursday in which some 60 whales from J, K, and L pod were together near Race Rocks. However, J50 was not among them.

Though the original meeting agendas might have to be broadened, NOAA has scheduled public meetings on its plan to capture, treat and release J-50 at 7 p.m. Saturday at Friday Harbor High School on San Juan Island, and 1 p.m. Sunday at the University of Washington's Haggett Hall in Seattle.

The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J50 for the past three days. Her family was seen Wednesday but J50 was not among them.

David Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research via AP J35, also known as Tahlequah, pushed her dead calf around the Pacific Northwest for more than two weeks in what was widely seen as a mourning ritual. The southern residents have not had a successful pregnancy in three years.

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She was known for her spectacular breaches, as many as 40 in a row, sometimes with her body in an arch. She became so emaciated it became increasingly hard for her to swim and hold her head up, as the fat pad in her cranium shrank, reducing her buoyancy.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Thursday morning the agency is stepping up its search efforts, including activating its stranding network, and asking airlines flying over San Juan Island to keep an eye out for the young whale.

NOAA has prepared plans to capture J50 if she can be taken from her pod safely or is otherwise stranded or alone.

Officials had hoped that J50, born in December 2014, might eventually reproduce and assist with the species' recovery.

The three-year-old whale known as J50 or Scarlet has not been seen for several days despite sightings of her mother and the rest of their pod. "They were really sweet together", Giles said.

Despite extraordinary efforts over the last two months to save a young ailing orca, including administering antibiotics and providing it with live salmon, the calf is skinnier than ever and in poor condition. Another option at that point would be holding her in a marine net pen in Puget Sound for a short time for rehabilitation and medical care before returning her to the wild to reunite with her family.

A multiagency search to find J50 was launched Thursday and people spent all day scouring the waters near Washington state and Canada for her.

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