• Missing orca J50 found, struggling to keep up with rest of pod

    By: Siemny Kim

    Updated:

    A critically ill southern resident orca calf, reported missing Monday morning, is alive.

    Scientists with NOAA feared the worst when they reported that J50 hadn’t been seen J50 since Thursday.

    According to NOAA, she was lagging about a half mile behind her mom and uncle and appeared to be struggling to keep up.

    A representative from NOAA also confirmed that scientists delivered one dart with antibiotics and that J50 received most of the dose. 

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    But Monday morning, crews said J50 has been spotted with her pod off of Hein Bank in U.S. waters, which are between Victoria and Port Townsend just south of the San Juans.

    “We were all heartbroken when we heard J50 had been lost, not found,” Howard Garrett with the Orca Network said. “But it was expected. It was like someone with a terminal illness essentially who finally passed. But then heartened when suddenly the news came in she was seen again.”

    It's been about a month since an international team of biologists, veterinarians, tribes, and other partners launched an unprecedented emergency effort to save J50, who is emaciated.

    Garrett has been in close contact with crews on the water who have eyes on J-50.

    “They said she's looking pretty skinny and pretty weak,” Garrett said.

    KIRO 7 asked him if it is remarkable that J50, also known as Scarlet, is still alive.

    “It truly is remarkable that she's held on this long but in her short life of 3 1/2 years, she has shown a lot of spunk, a lot of energy,” Garrett answered.

    Last month, scientists with NOAA found she could be infected with a worm parasite, which is harmful for emaciated whales. They want to give her another round of antibiotics and a de-wormer.

    “She's very, very sick. And I don’t want to take away from that. Most whales in her condition do not survive,” added Shari Tarantino of the Orca Conservancy. “The fact that she is still foraging is huge. If we can get her medication and get her on her way, hopefully she should recover.”

    J50 was part of the southern resident "baby boom" that happened from 2014-2016. Only five of the 11 calves, including J50, survived. There are only 75 southern resident killer whales left.

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