Scientist declares ailing orca dead

"What J50 needed, and what her family continues to need, is healthy and abundant chinook salmon, which these orcas depend upon for survival".

"I thought she was dead Monday", Balcomb said.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said boats and planes in the US and Canada are looking but that Balcomb usually makes such calls on missing whales because he keeps the population data.

David Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research via AP J35, also known as Tahlequah, pushed her dead calf around the Pacific Northwest for more than two weeks in what was widely seen as a mourning ritual. The sick southern resident killer whale, also known as Scarlet, was last seen lagging a half mile to a mile (0.8 to 1.6 kilometres) behind her family group on September 7 and her condition had not improved.

The young orca, once known for her propensity to breach by launching her body out of the water, has become sickly and emaciated in recent months.

The distinctive black-and-white orcas, known as southern resident killer whales, have struggled since they were listed as an endangered species in the USA and Canada well over a decade ago.

Ken Balcomb, the founding director of the US-based Center for Whale Research, told the Seattle Times he believes the whale is dead.

The sick orca has received worldwide attention.

Scientist began to be concerned about J50 in July.

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On Wednesday, experts intensified their efforts, announcing a last-ditch attempt to save J50: Capturing her and treating her in temporary captivity until she could be rehabilitated, the Associated Press reported. "This is a very sick whale".

A multiagency search to find J50 was launched Thursday and people spent all day scouring the waters near Washington state and Canada for her.

On its website, the NOAA said it was increasing its search boundaries Thursday with its "on-water partners and counterparts in Canada".

Crews in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, 10 vessels, whale watch crews and other resources on both sides of the border were involved in the search.

"She was like this little Energizer bunny that just keeps going and going, and definitely captured our hearts", he said.

Only 75 southern resident killer whales remain. The whales are threatened by toxins, ship traffic and a lack of food, specifically chinook salmon, according to the Center for Whale Research.

Balcomb said he has a boat out looking for her and would join in the search later in the day to make an official announcement.

If J50 is dead, it's the second major loss for her pod this summer.

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