The international mission to save the world’s last southern resident killer whales has just become more challenging.

Canadian and U.S. scientists are desperately seeking J50, a four-year-old female orca that is reportedly sick with an infection and has only days to live. Saving J50 is absolutely critical, as she is one of the last orcas able to reproduce among the remaining population of 75.

"We have not seen them," said Michael Milstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding the absence of J50’s pod since Saturday night. "There's been some challenges with fog but the crews have been out looking and [are] ready and waiting."

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The last time J50 was spotted, she was starving, lethargic and showed symptoms consistent with an infection. The NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are currently looking at all potential treatment options, one of which involves emergency intervention.

Scientists want to get close enough to J50 so that they can take a breath sample and use an elongated syringe to administer antibiotics. Such method is a more long-lasting approach, making it preferable to the alternative plan of feeding the whale medicated salmon which would require daily feedings.

While the method has never been tried on a pod before, Michael Kundu, a scientist who has prior experience in wild orca intervention, says it’s worth a shot.

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“There’s two reasons why I think we should try. One is to get good at the science. And two, even though this might not help this whale survive. We’ve got to do something. There’s no reason for us to simply let this go without learning from the process. We’re obligated to do it.”

J50’s pod also includes J35, another female orca who recently made headlines for pushing her dead calf through the water for several days. The behaviour was captured in heartbreaking photographs which showed the mother unable to get past the grief of her dead offspring.

Source: Castanet, CTV News