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Veterinarians ready for efforts to save ailing orca whale

09 August 2018

Delivering potentially life-saving treatment for an emaciated killer whale could depend on whether it is found in Canadian or American waters.

J50 and her pod were last spotted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) officials in Canadian waters on Friday.

Scientists are still not sure why the whale has lost so much weight and believe an infection could be one of the problems. Whale researchers are keeping close watch on an endangered orca that has spent the past week carrying and keeping her dead calf afloat in Pacific Northwest waters.

If a cause can be identified, the veterinarians on board will be able to sign off on the next step-the injection of a long-acting broad-spectrum antibiotic either from a pole or a dart gun.

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"If then things are going well and the behavior of the group and her responses to the (medication) is going okay, then they could move forward with the fish feeding trial", Rowles said. They will sluice a few salmon off the boat towards the pod and observe from all angles to see if J50 will respond to the food. What would be unique is giving the orca medication through live fish, Rowles said.

Whale experts have been increasingly anxious about J50 after a researcher last month noticed an odour on the orca's breath, a smell detected on other orcas that later died.

The search is on again for J50, the ailing killer whale, in a cross-border effort to save her life.

Rowles said such imagery has shed more light on the whales' overall body condition and growth over time. Then the whales disappeared back into the fog. A final report is due in November.

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J-pod recently drew an global spotlight when another orca, J35, was spotted pushing the body of her dead calf through the water for more than a week. The first step, now that she has been recovered, will be a health assessment. With fresh, live chinook salmon on board, their boat will position itself about 50-100 yards in front of the pod.

Others are pushing to tear down four dams on the lower Snake River.

Initial actions being discussed include ramping up hatchery production, restricting fishing in areas that are important to the orcas, offering financial compensation to recreational and commercial fishermen to stop or reduce fishing in certain areas and killing sea lions or birds that eat certain runs.

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Veterinarians ready for efforts to save ailing orca whale