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New photo shows orca’s health continues to decline

Images obtained by Holly Fearnbach (SR3) and John Durban (NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center) using a remotely-piloted drone. (NOAA Fisheries - West Coast Region)

New photos show an endangered southern resident orca is continuing to decline, heightening concerns for her survival.

John Durban, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, discovered further emaciation in J17 since his fall 2018 survey while conducting his spring survey.

The non-invasive survey was conducted by drone photography in conjunction with Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research.

The matriarch in her clan now has a pronounced “peanut head,” which indicates severe loss of body fat.

The survey also says J17’s daughter, J53, has deteriorated since last fall. J53 is three-and-a-half years old. Scientists said that J17’s health has deteriorated since giving birth to her daughter in the fall of 2015.

There are only 75 southern residents left, and the lives of matriarchs are critical to the success of their family. Scientists say there are several factors impacting the health of the southern resident orcas, including malnutrition, disease, and disturbances.

NOAA called J17’s body condition very poor and said it is monitoring during the summer but that there’s no plan at this time to intervene in the situation. The Northwest Fisheries Science Center plans to collect feces, breath, and scraps of the whales’ prey when available to give scientists information about the orcas’ diet, exposure to pathogen’s and potential pregnancies.

Meanwhile, there have been 18 gray whales that have washed up on Washington beaches this year according to Crosscut. A 42-foot female was found on a beach in Everett on May 5. A necropsy by Cascadia Research, WDFW, and World Vets didn’t reveal an apparent cause of death, but the whale showed signs “consistent with nutritional stress.”

At least 53 gray whales have washed ashore along the West Coast this spring, according to USA Today.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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