A desperate plan, but capturing ailing orca, J50, may be her only hope


WATCH: It’s a desperate plan, but it may be an ailing orca’s only hope.  Scientists are preparing to capture J50 in what they consider is one of the last resorts to save her life. Mary Griffin reports. 

The last video footage of J50, the ailing three-and-a-half-year-old southern resident orca was taken on Aug. 12.

Crews were attempting to feed her live chinook salmon through a tube.

Earlier this summer, scientists received a second dart with antibiotics, but her condition is deteriorating.

Dr. Joe Gaydos, a wildlife veterinarian and science director with the SeaDoc Society saw her Friday in the Strait of Georgia near Point Roberts.

“I was surprised at how thin she had become. The thinnest whale, killer whale that I’d ever seen,” Gaydos said.

Now, officials plan to capture J50 and treat her in a net pen at the NOAA facility in Washington State, according to Chris Yates, the assistant regional administrator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“We are preparing along with our partners, to rescue J50, if she ultimately separates from her family unit, or strands alive and rescuing her is the only alternative before us,” Yates said.

there has been a successful rescue in the past. On July 2003 in Port McNeil, Springer, the northern resident killer whale, was released back into the wild.

She was discovered alone and emaciated some 250 miles from her family’s territory swimming in Puget Sound near Seattle.  Biologists captured Springer, treated her, and released her to her family. That marked the first successful reunion of a killer whale with its pod.

In 2013, researchers discovered Springer made another major step, giving birth to the first of two calves. Now they are hoping to repeat that success.

Prince of Whales Skipper Mark Malleson is not optimistic about J50s future.

He’s one of the first people to see J50 shortly after her birth in December 2014 and one of the last to see her earlier this month near Jordan River.

“We need to get more fish. We need to bring the fish habitat back. We’ve destroyed it. That’s the bottom line,” Malleson said.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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