WATCH: History is being made in the waters off Vancouver Island. For the first time, scientists are treating an ailing orca in the wild. They caught up with southern resident calf J50 late Thursday and managed to medicate her. But she is severely underweight, and researchers worry she may not have much time left. Mary Griffin reports.
After days of searching for her in rough sea conditions, scientists from the U.S. and Canada caught a break. J50 was seen swimming alongside her mother, J16.
For six hours on Thursday, scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and U.S. researchers followed the pod including the Vancouver Aquarium’s Dr. Martin Haulena.
“We were very lucky, weather conditions kept improving throughout the day. So, they became just about as ideal as possible to do what we needed to do,” Haulena said.
The first job was capturing a breath sample. Once it’s analyzed, it could determine if J50 has an infection.
Haulena prepared the antibiotics that will be administered via a dart into J50. He’ll only get one chance. And most of the medicine is delivered.
“We are by no means certain that a simple bacterial infection is her problem. And in fact, it likely is not,” Haulena said, “We do feel that there is some bacterial component to her problem. But there is probably some underlying problem that we still need to diagnose.”
Scientists are doing everything they can to keep J50 alive because of her reproductive potential. She is one of only 75 southern resident orcas remaining.
Dr. Ken Balcomb has spent 42 years studying the southern resident orcas.
He appreciates the effort put into saving the life of the young orca.
But said their decline began twenty years ago, and he said a solution would be to restore chinook salmon stocks.
“We have to address the food supply. We have to restore wild habitat and wild salmon,” Balcomb said.
Scientists are also hoping they can feed the orcas with live chinook salmon, with help members of the Lummi First Nation.