J17 on March 22, 2019. (Melisa Pinnow/Center for Whale Research)

J17 on March 22, 2019. (Melisa Pinnow/Center for Whale Research)

Researchers say a southern resident killer whale, who showed signs of ailing last year, appears to have improved “a little.”

The 42-year-old orca was seen in the northern Haro Strait on Friday by researchers with the Center of Whale Research. In an update published on Monday, the team wrote that J17 has “improved a little in body condition since December/January.”

However, the researchers noted that her breath still smelled awful so they are “cautiously optimistic” she will survive. A foul odour has been detected on other orcas that later died.

J17 has a condition called peanut head, a sign of malnutrition. She was seen in December with her pod but was not socializing.

The southern resident population was at a 35-year low with 75 orcas left after three deaths in 2018. However, a new calf spotted at the beginning of the year is believed to still be alive.

CHEK News