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NOAA has plans to capture sick orca, if necessary

Biologists attempt to feed J50 live salmon in early August. (NOAA West Coast Fisheries)

Federal wildlife experts are putting together a plan to capture the ailing orca, J50, nicknamed “Scarlet,” but they stress they would only do that as a “last resort.”

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“We are preparing to rescue J50 if she ultimately is separated from her family unit or stranded alive and rescuing her is our only alternative that is before us,” Chris Yates, with NOAA Fisheries Assistant Regional Administrator.

Killer whales have strong family units and scientists don’t want to disrupt the J pod, part of the endangered southern resident killer whales.

Yates said their objective is that J50 survives in the wild and contributes to the recovery of the resident whales.

Scarlet is dangerously thin. Veterinarians have twice administered antibiotics to her, but they’ve seen no improvement and admit they don’t have a clear diagnosis for what’s causing her to be so ill. They had also planned to give her a dewormer, but have not been able to get close enough under the right weather conditions.

A “hands-on” examination would give them more information.

Veterinarians say J50’s survival is important.

“Because she’s an important part of the population, young, female, has the potential to be a functioning part of her family and contribute to the recovery of the population,” said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Authorization Program.

KIRO Radio’s Jillian Raftery contributed to this report.

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