Team Gives Medication To Sick Killer Whale At Sea

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Tahlequah is not carrying that calf's body all by herself - members of her family have been helping her with her vigil.

Whale experts have been increasingly anxious about J50 after a researcher last month noticed an odor on the orca's breath, a smell detected on other orcas that later died.

Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale research scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said they'll often see the southern residents with poor body conditions at the start of the summer, but they improve over the season as they feed on chinook salmon.

They hunt in these groups, and animals that become isolated can suffer a potentially life-threatening food shortage, experts warn.

The orca's plight represents a larger problem: The Southern Resident killer whale population, to which J35 belongs, has not had a successful birth in years.

Scientists are anxious that Tahlequah, or J35, is not getting adequate food because she has been carrying her baby for so long.


'It is frightful. This is an animal that is a sentient being, ' Deborah Giles, science and research director for the nonprofit Wild Orc said. The scientists said they have no plans to intervene; removing the dead calf would have serious repercussions to the group. "I think there are many species who do undertake this sort of behavior".

Still, most hope she'll drop her dead calf soon just to avoid undue stress.

The group will prioritize short-term and long-term actions, many of which are certain to focus on recovering the prized salmon that the fish-eating whales like to eat.

As Tahlequah carries her deceased calf for a 17th straight day, and concerns mount about her health, taking the calf away is not an option because of the tight bond between Tahlequah and the rest of the pod to her baby - dead or alive, experts say.

The carcass is "surprisingly intact", she said.

The pod's pregnancies haven't produced a viable offspring over the past three years, said the research centre.


A medical team was speeding to Race Rocks, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles, as of 1 p.m., to see if the conditions are right to attempt to help her. That data has documented orcas that declined and then disappeared.

The earliest the weather is forecasted to clear up is Sunday, Hanson said, and the plan will be easier if the whales move closer to the coast.

The task force is considering a range of efforts, from increasing hatchery production of salmon, training more private boats to help respond to oil spills, and prioritizing areas where important habitat can be restored.

"Obviously the connection [the pod] has formed with this calf is substantial and is something that we do have to take into account - what or how that might impact the whale from her behavioral state", Hanson said. A final report is due in November.

The orcas are distinct from other killer whales because they eat salmon rather than marine mammals.


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