U.S. researchers end their active search for sick orca J50

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said its team ended its two-day dedicated search

U.S. researchers have called off their search for ailing orca J50, who was last spotted a week ago.

In a statement Saturday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said its team of researchers and biologists ended its two-day dedicated search Friday night.

J50, a nearly four-year-old, emaciated southern residend killer whale, has been the centre of international rescue efforts as those involved tried to keep one of the less than 100 remaining members alive.

In August it was confirmed that J50, also named Scarlet, was suffering from “peanut-head syndrome,” due to malnourishment. Further tests revealed she also had parasitic worms. She had been darted with antibiotics twice before researchers considered the possibility of capturing her for hands-on treatment earlier this week.

Despite her JPod being spotted by rescue teams on both side of the border since then, J50 – who typically swam alongsider her mother – was nowhere to be seen. But while one scientist with the Center for Whale Research declared her dead on Thursday, NOAA and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada remained hopeful.

NOAA said the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, will still remain on the lookout for the young orca.

J50’s declared death comes roughly six weeks after J35’s calf was spotted dead – shortly after giving birth off Victoria’s Clover Point on July 24. She garnered international attention for what scientists have called a mourning ritual, involving her carrying her calf for weeks.

Since then, people all over North America have been keeping a close eye on efforts to save the young members of the endangered species.

“J50 and J35 have shown a light on recovery at a time when it is more urgent than ever,” NOAA said.

On Thursday, some of the orca-watching community in Puget Sound got a glimpse of what scientists call the fairly rare greeting ceremony between various orca pods known as a superpod. Some on social media have suggested this could be another kind of mourning ritual.

J50’s death brings the total number of living orcas that frequent the B.C. coast to 74.


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