Vets may capture ailing orca for treatment

J50 follows her mother, J16, on Aug. 18, 2018. (Photo by Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries, under permit 18786)

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. — A "rescue operation" is now a possibility to save a sick and starving young orca in Puget Sound.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries said Tuesday night J50, also known as Scarlett, could be captured, undergo a hands-on physical exam or possibly taken to a location for a short-term rehabilitation stint to improve her chances for surviving and being reunited with her pod.

Her survival is important as a contributing member of the orca population, particularly the J-pod, scientists say.

"The public has a stake in the J50 response and the recovery of Southern Resident killer whales and we understand many people are concerned," NOAA Fisheries officials said. "We want to know what people in the region think about this effort and potential steps so we are holding two public meetings in Washington State to hear the public’s views."

NOAA fisheries officials scheduled two public meetings to hear your views on how it should go about trying to keep starving orca J50 alive.

The first meeting will be Saturday Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. in Friday Harbor at Friday Harbor High School. The second will be Sunday at 1 p.m. at the University of Washington's Haggett Hall Cascade Room in Seattle.

"J50’s condition has declined over recent months to the point where she is emaciated and often lagging behind her family," officials said. "Field treatment has not improved her condition, and veterinarians believe they have exhausted all reasonable remote treatment options and her survival is unlikely."

Officials stress no rescue would be attempted while J50 is with her pod; they would only intervene if J50 becomes separated or becomes stranded on a beach and risks to the rest of the pod are minimized.

"If veterinarians and other experts who assess J50 in the field determine that she cannot be treated or rehabilitated, teams would promptly return her to J Pod to spend the rest of her life with her family," NOAA officials said. "Our guiding principle in response planning is for J50 to remain wild where she can contribute to the long-term recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale population, particularly J-pod."

J50's deteriorating health has been the focus of veterinarians on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border after she was discovered emaciated and has been struggling at times to keep up with her pod. Officials believe she is suffering from parasite infections and attempts to treat them with remote injections of antibiotics have not improved her condition.

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