Rescue team rushes to help ailing orca spotted off Canada

Katy Foster  NOAA Fisheries

Katy Foster NOAA Fisheries

Researchers blame starvation for the recent plummet in Southern Resident killer whale numbers. "It's very hard to say, but certainly they're very intelligent animals and the loss of this animal is quite profound for both the (killer whales) and I think for everyone who witnesses this".

The rescue team has approval in both U.S. and Canadian waters to give J50 medication.

The 3 1/2-year-old orca is thin, in poor body condition and may have an infection. The idea of removing the calf from her mother is "not on the table", according to Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with NOAA.

"Potential treatment may include medication and nutrition", the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

"The big question is, can we craft public policy that can make a difference in the future of the orca, and by doing so make a positive difference in how we live in Puget Sound", Purce said in an interview Monday.

It is not known if her family is foraging for her and feeding her, Thornton said, and she could not get a good enough look at her from the water Wednesday to assess her condition. "What is visible to us is significant decrease in body condition".

The plan hit a snag in Canada, which has taken longer to get licences in place than in the United States.

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"For close approaches, what we're needing to try to do is to match course and speed of the animals and then very slowly and cautiously move in so we don't disturb them", he said.

It's been more than two weeks since a mother orca was first spotted carrying her dead calf off the coast of Seattle, and she shows no signs of stopping in what scientists call an "unprecedented" period of mourning.

Tahlequah's calf died a few hours after its birth last month.

Unsurprisingly, given their neuroanatomy, orcas live in tight-knit matrilineal pods that are led by mothers, aunties and grandmothers - female orcas have the longest post-menopausal life span of any animal we know of besides humans. And man-made contraptions, like hydroelectric power sources, block their path to release eggs.

This is the only way to restore balance to the fragile ecosystems where killer whales live so that their food supply will be replenished and their species can once again thrive. It takes a calf a little under a year and a half to fully develop in the womb, and they nurse for another year. "So we've been standing by here, hoping that the southern residents will come back in". In about 20 years, only 25 percent of the population's newborns have survived. 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.

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.

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