Scientists concerned about endangered orca still pushing body of her calf

About two weeks ago, a heartbreaking picture of an orca mother carrying her dead calf tugged on the heartstrings of the Internet.

An ailing and emaciated orca named Scarlet may get food and antibiotics soon - if biologists can find her before it's too late.

"It is very possible that she has succumbed at this point and that we may never see her again", Teri Rowles, marine mammal health and stranding coordinator for National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, told journalists during a press phone briefing Tuesday.

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.

"Responders from NOAA Fisheries and partner organizations are exploring options ranging from no intervention to providing medical treatment, potentially delivered in a live chinook salmon, which has never before been attempted in the wild".

J35 was spotted Wednesday carrying her dead calf, marking the 16th day of her "tour of grief".

The tweet says the next step is to decide if trial feeding of J50 should proceed, although it says that will depend on the location of the pod, as well as water and weather conditions.

The Vancouver Aquarium's head veterinarian, Dr. Martin Haulena, was on the vessel assessing and treating the whale, according to statements from the aquarium and NOAA.

"Removing the calf would be a very, very hard decision, and obviously we would have to take many factors into consideration, so that's now not on the table", she said.

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"This is a novel undertaking", Mr Hanson said.

USA and Canadian scientists said they were concerned about the mother's condition and would keep monitoring it but have no immediate plans to help it or remove the calf. "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".

With the whale far away and a bin full of salmon pulled that morning from a state hatchery, crews did a practice run to work out the logistics of feeding live fish to a whale while staying ahead of it in a boat.

The fish-eating orcas that frequent the inland waters of Washington state are down to 75 animals, and there hasn't been a successful birth since 2015.

The last time scientists rescued a killer whale in the region was in 2002 when a northern resident killer whale known as Springer was found swimming alone in Puget Sound.

"Having not laid eyes on her personally before, it was dramatic how thin she is", Haulena said.

The orca was last seen off the coast of Washington on Wednesday. She returned to her family of whales in Canada later that year and in 2013 was seen with her new calf.

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

A team of whale experts injected an ailing Southern Resident orca with antibiotics Thursday in a rare emergency effort to save her.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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