Endangered orca that sparked worldwide rescue plan gets first treatment

Mourning orca mother still carrying dead calf more than two weeks later on 'tour of grief'

An worldwide team of experts has been waiting for an opportunity to get close to the female killer whale so they can carry out an emergency plan that includes giving it antibiotics or feeding it live salmon at sea.

The team led by the USA agency lacks a permit to feed the whale, which is emaciated and possibly suffering an infection, in Canadian waters, though it had one for medical treatment.

Michael Milstein with NOAA Fisheries says experts plan to do a health assessment of the young whale if conditions allow.

This is likely due to a sharp decline in the killer whales' main food source - the Chinook salmon - as well as contamination of the waters that they live in. The orca would initially get just a few fish to see whether it takes it and how it and members of its pod respond before deciding whether to give it salmon dosed with medication, officials have said.

With the whale not close by, crews did a practice run for the feeding, sending salmon through a turquoise tube off the back of a boat.

Orca whales also do not have babies often or in large numbers, and when they do, it is a long process. A King County research vessel drove alongside, also carrying fish, to provide support.

A team set out Thursday and found the young whale alone, said Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Martin Haulena on a conference call with reporters Friday.

"This is a novel undertaking", Mr Hanson said.

"She was diving for long periods of time and was easily keeping up with her group".

Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale scientist with Fisheries Oceans Canada, said the whale looks more like a 2-year-old though it has always been small for her age. "Our decision will be evidence-based and we will act quickly together with our partners when the conditions are right to move ahead with any action", the federal department said in a statement.

People from around the world are following the trials of the southern resident orca clan, down to only 75 animals.

"That's what this is really all about".

NOAA coordinator Teri Rowles said while they don't know what kind of infection Scarlet has, they are concerned about it.

The heartbreaking story about a grieving mother orca who has spent the past 16 days carrying the body of her dead calf has gained an enormous amount of attention.

USA and Canadian officials acknowledged Thursday that they're concerned that J35's apparent grieving process could prevent her from foraging, but they have no plans to intervene at this point to remove the dead calf. She returned to her family of whales in Canada later that year and in 2013 was seen with her new calf.

This most recent orca death represents another reproductive failure for the salmon-eating southern resident killer whales that typically show up in Puget Sound waters from spring to fall. By the time biologists from the Center for Whale Research arrived at her side, the calf was dead.



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