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

Stumpage costs to increase on July 1

MLA John Rustad speaks about the issues faced by the B.C. forest industry

B.C. oil tanker ban squeaks through final vote in Senate

Bill C-48 bars oil tankers from loading at ports on B.C’s north coast

Smithers man receives two-year sentence for fatal car crash

Over a year after a fatal crash, a Smithers man has been sentenced to two years plus a day in jail.

Fraser Lake business offers equine therapy to deal with life stressors

The idea is to have diverse businesses that provide more options to residents and tourists says Kim Watt-Senner

Air Canada reviewing how crew left sleeping passenger on parked plane

In a Facebook post, the woman said she woke up ‘all alone’ on a ‘cold dark’ aircraft

Four-year-old boy assaulted at B.C. soccer game

It happened at a weekend tournament in Ashcroft

Top B.C. court upholds ruling that struck down indefinite solitary confinement

Feds had appealed ruling in case brought by B.C. Civil Liberties Association, John Howard Society

Two bear cubs saved near Revelstoke after mother hit by car

Conservation officers trapped the cubs and transported them to a wildlife sanctuary

Heroism medal for B.C. woman who tried to save wheelchair-bound man stuck on rail tracks

Julie Callaghan awarded Carnegie Medal from U.S.-based foundation for ‘extraordinary heroism’

Surrey RCMP raises Pride flag amid din of protesters

There were about 30 protesters on either side, and 20 Mounties doing crowd control

B.C. students’ camping trip goes ahead despite tents getting stolen

Nanaimo businesses, school staff and parents ensure trip goes on

Feds announce funds to replace Kitimat’s Haisla River Bridge

Bill Morneau said Ottawa’s $275 million will also help fund high energy-efficient gas turbines

Only legal pot shop between Vancouver and Kamloops now open

Private cannabis store on Skwah land in Chilliwack is first B.C. licensee to be Indigenous owned

Most Read