Endangered orca that sparked international rescue plan gets first treatment

Scientists are reporting progress in the race to help an emaciated and endangered West Coast killer whale in the waters of the Salish Sea. The experts now have authorization to intervene with medical treatment in both USA and Canadian waters once the critically endangered orca shows up again in the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Researchers spotted the 20-year-old whale and the calf off of Washington's Olympic Peninsula on Wednesday, the station says.

A mourning mother whale continues to carry her dead half calf for over two weeks, which scientists say is part of her grieving.

In addition to the breath test, they will look for visual clues, such as lesions on the J50's skin, body condition, how she moves and surfaces.

PHOTO: A Southern Resident killer whale died a short time after it was born near Victoria, British Columbia, July 24, 2018. Images of the mother clinging to the dead calf have struck an emotional chord across the world. She was last spotted Wednesday.

That plan does not yet have approval for use in Canadian waters.

Brad Hanson with NOAA said earlier Thursday that if they didn't obtain health samples from J50 soon, opportunities to medicate the orca might dry up as rough weather is expected to come in Friday.

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The calf was believed to have died of malnutrition shortly after her birth.

Scientists are anxious that Tahlequah's behavior may harm her health, and they are keeping a close eye on her.

The experimental, emergency plan to save J50 requires scientists to nail down her ailments through breath and fecal samples, then administer long-lasting antibiotics by either pole-mounted syringe or dart.

This is likely due to a sharp decline in the killer whales' main food source - the Chinook salmon - as well as contamination of the waters that they live in. As of August 9, The Seattle Times reports that Tahlequah was still clinging to her baby, keeping its 400-pound (180-kilogram) body afloat with her head, coming up for air and swimming in a tight circle behind her pod for a few breaths before diving down deep to lift her daughter's body to the surface again.

"This is a novel undertaking", Hanson said. "It's very hard to say, but certainly they're very intelligent animals and the loss of this animal is quite profound for both the (killer whales) and I think for everyone who witnesses this".

"As there are only approximately 76 southern resident killer whales left, we must take into consideration whether our actions risk harming either J-50 or her pod", adds the DFO statement.

"The assumption is she could be fortified like a dolphin", Noren said. She was fed live salmon in the pen.

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