The southern resident killer whale J50, also known as Scarlet, hasn't been seen for several days and has been now presumed dead. The last known sighting of the 3-year-old orca was on September 7, researchers said.
The orcas have struggled with pollution, boat noise and, most severely, a lack of their preferred prey, chinook salmon, because of dams, habitat loss and overfishing.
An ailing killer whale that became the focus of cross-border rescue efforts is missing and feared dead.
Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said boats and planes in the US and Canada are looking but that Balcomb usually makes such calls on missing whales because he keeps the population data. Her family was seen Wednesday at the south end of Lopez Island, but J50 was not among them.
A sick young orca killer whale from a critically endangered population off the U.S. coast has been declared dead after a lengthy search turned up nothing.
"This is a sign from the whales that all is not going well out there for recovery of the southern residents", Balcomb told the Seattle Times on Thursday. As teams scrambled to find her Thursday, she failed to appear with her pod once again, despite favorable sighting conditions.
Still, she survived, and for a while restored hope that she could help her pod - part of an embattled population of southern resident killer whales known to frequent the waters near Washington state - to rebuild their numbers.
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The sick orca has received worldwide attention. But, he said the US and Canadian governments plan to continue searching Friday on the chance she's still alive.
Given the death of Tahlequah's baby, who was also a female capable of reproduction, biologists and government officials began working fervently to devise ways to nurse J50 back to health, or risk losing another potential mother. Her mother, J16, has also declined in condition in the past month.
Experts had been preparing last-ditch efforts to save the almost 4-year-old, emaciated whale that included the possibility of capturing and treating her.
On its website, the NOAA said it was increasing its search boundaries Thursday with its "on-water partners and counterparts in Canada". We have alerted the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which is a tremendous resource in such situations. The search at this point is just a matter of protocol, he said. "We haven't given up hope".
"The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J50 for the past three days", the agency said.
Joseph Gaydos, a wildlife veterinarian with the SeaDoc Society in Washington state, saw J50 a week ago and described her as the thinnest killer whale he'd ever seen.