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‘Considerable fog’ complicates search for ailing orca J50

Aerial images of Southern Resident killer whale juvenile J50, taken in 2017 (left) and August 1st 2018 (right) for comparison. (SR3’s Marine Mammal Research Director, Dr. Holly Fearnbach, and her NOAA colleague Dr. John Durban)
Aerial images of Southern Resident killer whale juvenile J50, taken in 2017 (left) and August 1st 2018 (right) for comparison. (SR3’s Marine Mammal Research Director, Dr. Holly Fearnbach, and her NOAA colleague Dr. John Durban)

The search is on again for J50, the ailing killer whale, in a cross-border effort to save her life. The work has been frustrated by fog, weather and the whale’s location.

“There is considerable fog out there, there is a lot of wind where the animals are now … Where they are is not where these kind of activities could occur,” said Paul Cottell, marine mammal coordinator for Fisheries Oceans Canada.

Conditions had improved Wednesday morning, with less fog, making researchers more hopeful the animals will be found. The only sighting Tuesday was between 3:52 pm and 4:31 pm, when Canadian researchers saw J50, staying close to her mother, moving steadily along, and resting. Then the whales disappeared back into the fog.

Canadian officials have not yet received an application to administer antibiotics to the whale in Canadian waters, Cottell said, a procedure NOAA wants to try if J50 is in Washington waters.

Feeding J50 by bringing her live Chinook salmon caught by the Lummi Nation could begin as soon as Thursday, depending on whether the health assessment is accomplished Wednesday, and its outcome. That could also only occur in Washington waters.

J Pod was seen off the south end of Vancouver Island by Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans personnel late Tuesday. Biologists will be on the lookout for the pod Wednesday morning.

The 3½-year-old orca is emaciated and may have an infection. The critically endangered southern-resident orcas have declined to a population of only 75 animals.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has mounted an emergency effort to administer medical care and food for J50 after worldwide attention focused last week on another member of the J Pod family, Tahlequah, seen carrying her dead calf around the Salish Sea for 10 days and hundreds of miles.


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