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Scientists fear that health of J50 orca is not improving

J50 spotted in Canadian waters in August. (Photo by Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries)

Scientists are increasingly worried the antibiotic treatments for the sickly young orca dubbed Scarlet are not working. When response teams caught up to the J-Pod on Friday, they found Scarlet lagging at times about a half-mile behind her family.

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Veterinarians have determined her body condition is not improving. Researchers have been trying to inject Scarlet with a de-wormer to help with a parasite she’s believed to have, but attempts over the weekend were not successful. They’re hoping for more favorable weather conditions soon.

“We all are growing increasingly concerned about J50, and we understand you want to know where we go from here,” NOAA Fisheries said in a Facebook statement. “We are working with our Canadian counterparts at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to carefully evaluate options and will update you as soon as we can.”

Attention turned to J50 after another calf in her pod died on July 24. The dead calf’s mother, J35, had carried its carcass for weeks as it appeared to grieve.

The difficult issue for veterinarians is assessing the orca’s health from afar, without doing a physical examination that would require capturing the orca. Data must be attained piecemeal, and they can only fix likely problems that are exacerbating the orca’s health.

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“Our highest priorities are to do all we can to ensure J50 remains a contributing part of the Southern Resident killer whale population, and to prevent any harm to her and her family under any potential response scenario. That is the bottom line.”

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