POULSBO — NOAA Fisheries held a discussion on the emergency response to support J50, an emaciated southern resident killer whale seen traveling with J-Pod, the same pod in which another orca, J35, was seen in recent days carrying her dead calf as she swam in an apparent display of mourning.
Lynne Barre, a recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, said when she was last spotted, J50’s condition it appeared to be “quite poor.” Barre noted that the animal appeared to exhibit a condition she referred to as a “peanut-head,” depression surrounding the blowhole, which is a clear indicator of malnourishment in orcas.
The pod, Barre said, had not been sighted since Saturday evening when the group was spotted near Sooke, British Columbia.
“Every day that passes is an opportunity for us to get our team and our resources and our plans together but certainly time is of the essence here, and we’re hopeful that J-Pod will come back into inland waters where we can continue our work,” Barre said. “We have not been able to implement our actions that we planned at the end of last week.”
That plan, Barre said, included continuing to monitor the pod and collecting breath and fecal samples when possible.
“We’re pulling resources together, and we’re ready to continue with collecting samples, as we can.” Barre said. “We’re also working and have resources in place, if the whales do arrive, to do a veterinary health assessment for J50, and that will help us evaluate the condition of the animal and evaluate our options for medical treatment.”
Possible options being explored for treating J50 include providing the whale with live Chinook salmon and administering antibiotics via a pole injection system.
Salmon provided by the Lummi Tribe, she explained, could also possibly be given to the animal as a form of “nutritional support therapy, in a temporary sense and also a method for administering oral medication.”
The plan to feed J50 live Chinook still needed to be given the final go-ahead by NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, Barre said. That plan, submitted at the end of last week, was still being deliberated and the group continues to await authorization.
Kristin Wilkinson, a coordinator for NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, said a test run was being conducted without any live salmon so the group may practice how it can provide J50 with live salmon, ahead of authorization.
“It is our understanding that live fish may be available as early as Tuesday, with approximately about 12 fish per day being provided,” Wilkinson said.
—Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org