Video: Team attempts to feed live salmon to ailing orca
Researchers attempted to release live salmon for orca J50, “Scarlet,” to eat Sunday. The fish were dosed with medication. It is unclear, however, if the orca took the fish.
Photos: The pod that captured our hearts
According to NOAA Fisheries West Coast:
#J50/Scarlet Update: Favorable conditions on Sunday (8/12) allowed the teams to proceed with an experimental live fish release off the west side of San Juan Island to evaluate the process as a way to treat J50/Scarlet with medication and supplements. Under the direction of Jeff Foster with the The Whale Sanctuary Project, a Lummi Nation vessel released eight live hatchery salmon about 75 to 150 yards in front of J50/Scarlet, while teams observed from NOAA Fisheries and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) vessels. While she appeared to react to the released fish by quickly diving, biologists could not confirm from the vessels whether she took the fish, and they are now reviewing aerial footage for further clues. J50/Scarlet socialized with members of J Pod, at one point surrounded by a cluster of other whales, but did sometimes fall behind in the strong current. The whales appear headed back west toward the open ocean this morning (8/13), with teams standing by for further sightings. Researchers collected a fecal sample from the pod but could not confirm whether it was from J50 herself. Fecal samples can reveal whether the whales are eating, what they are eating, provide clues about their health, and gauge their stress levels by evaluating hormones such as cortisol.
NOAA says researchers spent several hours observing J50 on Saturday off San Juan Island.
The 3-year-old orca spent time swimming with her family — the J pod — while University of Washington researchers collected a fecal sample. The team reported the whale saw her fall about a half-mile behind in a strong tidal current. Biologists were concerned they didn’t see her eat, even in a prime foraging area. However, a charter company reported seeing her catching a fish earlier in the day.
The Center for Whale Research reports J35 is no longer carrying her calf and appears to be in good condition.
“J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy,” Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research, told The Seattle Times.
Balcomb also reported to KIRO Radio that J50 looked skinnier than ever, even being able to see the outline of her skull. That said, she appeared to be energetic and attempting to eat salmon.
On Friday, NOAA reported J50 appeared active and energetic in Canadian waters.
The orca repeatedly dove and surfaced where the J pod was feeding. However, they couldn’t tell whether J50 also fed, but they collected scale samples to help them determine which kind of salmon the whales had eaten.
On Thursday, J50 was given antibiotics via a dart as she and her pod entered U.S. waters near the San Juan Islands.
Researchers were also able to obtain a breath sample to further assess the orca’s health and determine if the calf has an infection. It is among a handful of tests they are running. It will take up to a week to get results. After ruling out respiratory diseases as causes of her condition, they are now focusing how well the orca is eating.
NOAA said Friday it expected to get a closer look again on Sunday when weather conditions allow.