Scientists give medicine to sick killer whale near Washington State

Katy Foster  NOAA Fisheries

Katy Foster NOAA Fisheries

By the time the whale entered her third day of mourning, Dr Balcomb, said he had never observed a whale mourn for such a long time.

Hanson said the American team required fairly calm weather in order to get close enough to J50 to collect a breath sample.

An worldwide 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 it antibiotics or feeding it live salmon at sea. "They are very intelligent animals, and the loss of this animal is quite profound".

The southern resident killer whales are a critically endangered population, with approximately 75 individuals left.

Tahlequah, referred to by scientists as J35, was spotted Wednesday by Canadian scientists pushing the body of her calf off the coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

Giles said the spotlight on the animals, while itself awful news, has already led to skyrocketing worry about their plight.

Haulena said they watched J50 rejoin her group on Thursday.

"I think that's one of the things that's most worrisome to me".

In June, researchers revealed that it was not uncommon for whales and dolphins to keep holding onto their dead offspring for days at a time. By the time biologists from the Center for Whale Research arrived at her side, the calf was dead. He estimated she has carried the calf more than 1,000 miles.

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They also face overlapping threats from toxic pollution and noise and disturbances from boats.

J50 is a member of J Pod of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale group, that includes orca J35 "Tahlequah" who has been carrying her dead calf with her for more than two weeks.

"We've been saying it for 20 years, the humans who have been studying these animals", Giles said, before noting that now "the animals themselves in the last three weeks, it's nearly like they've taken the torch". "But there are many species who do undertake this sort of behaviour, where, if a young has failed to survive, they will carry the carcass".

"The connections between these animals are very strong, and to remove one from her familial group would have serious repercussions", she explained.

Hanson said Springer's case was different because it was isolated.

Since then, an adult male orca went missing in June and is presumed dead. A final report is due in November.

The efforts come as a task force called by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee met Tuesday to come up with solutions to help the whales.

The orcas are distinct from other killer whales because they eat salmon rather than marine mammals.

But ultimately, even if biologists are successful in bringing this whale back to a healthy state while keeping it wild, it still won't fix what is causing orcas to become sick in the first place: an extreme lack of Chinook salmon, their main food source, largely as a result of - you guessed it - overfishing, creation of dams, and habitat degradation caused by humans!

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