Scientists struggle to diagnose emaciated killer whale, plan on second dose

Scientists struggle to diagnose emaciated killer whale, plan on second dose

File photo.

File photo.

Scientists are planning a second dose of antibiotics for an endangered killer whale that is the focus of an international rescue effort.

The southern resident killer whale known as J-50 has already been treated with an antibiotic-filled dart.

But Martin Haulena of the Vancouver Aquarium says diagnosing her ailments has been difficult because officials haven’t been able to gather blood work, ultrasounds or seeing her up close.

“I think this animal has had something going on with her that’s quite complicated and it’s just very, very hard to work without a diagnosis,” Haulena said.

J-50 is one of just 75 southern resident killer whales and was last seen Friday off the Washington coast and biologists described the whale as skinny, underweight and emaciated.

“In the most obvious sense, she’s not getting enough to eat. She’s not getting enough nutrition. That’s the fundamental problem,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Michael Milstein said.

Haulena, who administered the first antibiotic dose Aug. 9, says there are plans the next time J-50 is spotted to use a collared needle for antibiotics and a deworming drug.

It is a type of dart that has a small ridge around the needle so it’s embedded in the animal long enough to deliver a full dose before it falls out.

Using Chinook salmon filled with treatment remains another possible option, but J-50 did not eat the fish the first time the method was tried.

Another option is capturing the killer whale and treating her before being released.

“Certainly, resources for something like that have been identified,” Haulena said.

“If she’s stranded on the beach, lagging way behind on the group for a long period of time or had a very serious decline, something like that would be talked about.”

Haulena said one positive to come out of J-50’s story is that people are more aware of the problems whales face.

With files from the Canadian Press.


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