NOAA: Ailing 3-year-old orca J50 hasn't been seen in several days

Update Sept 13:

NOAA Fisheries officials said Thursday that ailing 3-year-old orca J50 hasn't been seen in several days of favorable conditions.

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Officials said there have been sightings of her pod and family group, including her mother, J16.

J50, also known as Scarlet, was born in December of 2014.

NOAA Fisheries and partner responders have been exploring ways to provide medical treatment to help Scarlet.

Responders gave Scarlet antibiotics and were most recently considering a plan to capture and remove her from the wild if she was clearly separated from her family.

Original report:

NOAA is hatching plans to capture a critically ill orca calf since unprecedented efforts to save her in the wild aren't working.

The newest pictures of J50, also known as Scarlet, show her health isn't improving despite a second round of antibiotics given to her just last week.

Now, NOAA is thinking about taking the intervention a step further by possibly capturing the sick calf and treating her, with the ultimate goal of returning her to her family.

“I appreciate everyone wants to alleviate this whale's suffering. No one wants to see a whale suffer. However, this is a very different situation from Springer,” said Donna Sandstrom, founder of the Whale Trail.

Sandstrom worked closely with Springer's rescue back in 2002.

Like J50, Springer was sick. But the northern resident, also known as A73, was orphaned when NOAA stepped in, pulled her from the wild and successfully reintegrated her with her family. She is now thriving, with two babies of her own.

Though Sandstrom supported Springer's intervention, she's now asking NOAA to step back with J50.

“Let's get this population better as a whole rather than trying to rescue them one by one,” Sandstrom added. “That’s also what I'm concerned about. Is this a precedent? Anytime there’s a sick or ailing whale, are we going to go through this exercise?”

NOAA said it just wants to protect J50's potential to reproduce, which is critical since the endangered southern resident population has dropped to only 75.

Officials said they would only capture J50 once she is separated from her family or stranded.

“What exactly is the definition of stranding?” asked Michael Harris, the former head of the Pacific Whale Watch Association. “What exactly is the definition of being separated from the pod?”

Harris said specifics need to be ironed out, but he supports NOAA's plan to rescue J50, which he regards as a symbol of hope for potential recovery of the population.

“If we are going to do human and superhuman intervention to save this population, and if the symbolism is part of it, trying to build constituency globally, why not J50? Why not the little whale? Let’s do it,” Harris added.

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