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Officials considering rescuing ailing killer whale for medical treatment

Killer whale J50 is shown off the coast of Washington State in this August 12, 2018 handout photo.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - NOAA Fisheries, Katy Foster
September 12, 2018 - 3:30 PM

VANCOUER, B.C. - Capturing and treating an extremely sick and endangered killer whale may be the next step in her rescue attempt, say officials leading the operation in Canada and the United States.

The extraordinary measure would allow rescuers to conduct a hands-on, physical examination should circumstances arise.

If the young killer whale known as J50 is stranded on a beach or separated from her family, officials say they are laying out steps that would involve capturing and treating her before returning the animal to the wild.

Chris Yates, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S., said the ultimate objective is that J50 survive in the wild and contribute to the recovery of southern resident killer whales.

"We do not intend to intervene or capture J50 in a manner contrary to that objective or when there is a negative impact to her pod or the wild population," he said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

"We are preparing along with our partners to rescue J50 if she is ultimately separated from her family unit or stranded and rescuing her is the only alternative before us."

Putting the whale in captivity is not their objective, said Yates, who is the assistant regional administrator for protected resources with NOAA Fisheries.

Officials don't intend to intervene if she is with her pod, he said.

Department of Fisheries regional director Andrew Thomson said it's a difficult situation.

"A lot of logistical challenges to consider, ensuring everyone is prepared for what can happen. We are trying to be in the best prepared position should a rescue be required through separation or stranding."

The latest aerial photos of the whale show a noticeable loss of fat behind the head, which creates the "peanut head" appearance.

Veterinarian Joe Gaydos, who is with the SeaDoc Society, a marine wildlife program based out of the University of California, Davis, saw her most recently and said she is in extremely poor condition.

"She was the thinnest killer whale I've ever seen. This is a very sick whale."

The orca known as J50 is one of only 75 remaining southern resident killer whales and has declined over recent months to the point where she is emaciated and often lagging behind her family.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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