Scientists probe ‘next steps’ after emaciated orca finally spotted in B.C. waters

Canadian and American scientists are analyzing samples to see how to best treat J50

Scientists have finally located an emaciated female killer whale off the coast of Vancouver Island after struggling to locate her since Saturday.

Both American and Canadian research teams had been working to examine J50, also known as Scarlet, who is believed to suffer from a syndrome called “peanut head,” where her head appears too small for her body, possibly because of malnourishment.

On Wednesday, officials said she was spotted the afternoon before, swimming with her mother, J16, and a few other orcas in the J pod along the Juan de Fuca Strait between Sooke and Port Renfrew.

“J50 was staying close to her mom and was keeping up well, moving at a casual speed and undertaking what we call ‘logging behaviour,’ which is a resting behaviour with low transience movement,” said Sheila Thornton, research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

READ MORE: Canadian laws could prevent emaciated killer whale from being treated

Scientists are now analyzing breath and fecal samples to determine whether to go ahead with a first-of-its-kind plan to save the animal by feeding it salmon that’s been injected with antibiotics.

Lynne Barre with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. said while scientists work quickly to help a wild animal in an unusual circumstance, the process is being taken step-by-step with no guarantees in how J50 recovers.

“Based on what we can learn from the sampling, we may consider additional treatments for fungal infection, for parasites,” she said.

Feeding antibiotics in salmon still under review

Officials on both sides of the border have been trying to work around Canadian laws that prevent close feeding.

The Canadian government has limited the chinook salmon fishery to help the recovery of the southern resident killer whales. Vessels must also stay a minimum distance of 200 metres away from killer whales.

Paul Cottrell, marine mammals coordinator with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said an “unprecedented” permit has been secured to feed the whale with a pole or darts.

However, DFO scientists will still need to review a permit to feed J50 with salmon. An application had yet to be submitted by the biologists involved.

Thornton said one of the key differences between Canadian and U.S. laws around these kinds of procedures falls under the Species at Risk Act.

As there are only 75 southern resident killer whales left, Thornton said, a comprehensive review is necessary to ensure any plan to help an animal at risk of extinction does not further harm it.

While the NOAA focuses on the potential benefits, she added, Canadian scientists are probing the negative effects feeding J50 may have.

“Anytime we undertake a close approach that distracts the animal from, for example, foraging, we put that animal at potential risk of decreasing its nutritional input,” she said.

Visibility on the waters to play key role in next steps

Vessels on both sides of the border were on the water on Wednesday, with responders again searching for the J pod.

Officials said choppy waters and fog off Vancouver Island have caused problems all week.

Crews are conducting “stop, look and listen” procedures, which involves a 360-degree visual scan of the waters and a 15-minute hydrophone drop to detect sounds underwater.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Homegrown star signs with Fraser Valley Bandits

Marek Klassen was BC Provincial Player of the Year during Yale championship year

Abbotsford students create ‘Character Matters’ website and video

Project started by Grade 6 class at Eugene Reimer Middle School

Abbotsford man cleared of drug and weapons charges for second time

Navpreet Dhaliwal acquitted of four charges less than a year after previous offences dropped

Bruce Banman to seek Abbotsford South BC Liberal nomination

Former Abbotsford mayor was elected as a councillor last fall

VIDEO: Suspected arson sends five to Abbotsford hospital with smoke inhalation

Man seen throwing flammable substance in van, lighting it on fire next to home

600 new campsites coming to provincial parks and recreation sites across B.C.

Tourism Minister announced half of the new spots to 13 most popular provincial parks

Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 to move within 1 game of NBA Finals

Leonard scores 35 as Toronto takes 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee

B.C. Supreme Court dismisses review around ferry workers’ right to strike

B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union collective agreement expires November 2020

Fraser Valley man dead after car hurtles from embankment west of Campbell River

Survivor of crash rushed to hospital by helicopter in serious condition

B.C. premier hints at twin-tunnel plan for Metro Vancouver’s Massey Tunnel

John Horgan cancelled plans for a 10-lane bridge to replace the 60-year-old tunnel shortly after taking office

Police investigate ‘serious collision’ between motorcycle, truck in Vancouver

Motorists asked to stay away from Blanca Street & West 4 Avenue

Municipalities protest after B.C. declares marijuana crops ‘farm use’

UBCM president seeks answers in letter to John Horgan government

CMHC defends mortgage stress test changes amid calls for loosening rules

Uninsured borrowers must now show they could service their mortgage if rates rose two per cent

Metro Vancouver mayors ask public to lobby feds for annual $375M transit fund

Mayors renewing their call for transit funding as federal election looms

Most Read