Fearing that J50's fate will be the same if they don't intervene, scientists are considering multiple strategies created to save the starving whale, including feeding her live salmon dosed with medication at sea.
Killer whales, though they have a reputation for being ruthless predators, are some of the most socially sophisticated animals in the world. It kept sinking, and the mother would raise it to the surface, ' said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, which closely tracks individual whales.
"She was breathing very well; her respiratory rate was normal", he said.
The carcass is "surprisingly intact", she said. "There is very little risk to the animal getting a shot of long-lasting antibiotic, but the potential gain was quite large". Now, yet another member of the highly endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales - a four-year-old female known by researchers as J50 - is seriously at risk of dying.
Giles said the spotlight on the animals, while itself terrible news, has already led to skyrocketing worry about their plight.
"I think that's one of the things that's most worrisome to me".
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The whales face nutritional stress over a lack of Chinook salmon as well as threats from toxic contamination and vessel noise and disturbances.
Scientists on both sides of the border have become increasingly concerned about J50's emaciated state in recent weeks and fear she could die, dealing yet another blow to the declining population of 75 southern resident killer whales. "That is not on the table", said Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.
An worldwide team of experts has successfully administered antibiotics to ailing young orca J50 in an emergency effort to save her life, an apparent first for an orca in the wild.
"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. Researchers will first perform a health assessment on J50 before deciding whether or not to administer any medication. By doing so, you will help ensure that there are plenty of fish in the sea for the animals who actually need to eat these aquatic creatures to survive (unlike us). That data has documented orcas that declined and then disappeared. A final report is due in November.
Biologists will watch to see if the young whale is foraging, determine if she vomits after eating, observe the health of her scat, and obtain a fecal sample.
The task force is considering a range of efforts, from increasing hatchery production of salmon, training more private boats to help respond to oil spills, and prioritizing areas where important habitat can be restored. "So we basically have to get within five metres of the whale", Hanson said.