Published: Fri, September 14, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Missing southern resident killer whale J50 declared dead by scientists

Missing southern resident killer whale J50 declared dead by scientists

The southern resident killer whales, which are so endangered there are just 75 individuals left, swim between Canadian and USA waters to Seattle and Vancouver ports through busy shipping lanes.

The Center for Whale Research noted Thursday that the pod of whales had been struggling in recent years due to a lack of chinook salmon, their primary food source.

"Her last known sighting was Friday, September 7 by our colleagues at NOAA, SeaDoc, and others".

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Thursday morning the agency is stepping up its search efforts, including activating its stranding network, and asking airlines flying over San Juan Island to keep an eye out for the young whale. Her mother, J16, has also declined in condition in the past month.

"The message brought by J50, and by J35 and her dead calf a few weeks ago, is that the [the whales] are running out of reproductive capacity and extinction of this population is looming", the group wrote.

The news of J50's bleak diagnosis came just as the population was experiencing another tragedy - the sudden death of a newborn female who only lived for a half-hour.

The high-profile cases have focused global attention on the plight of southern resident killer whales, whose numbers have dwindled to 75 and now - if J50 has died - to 74 in three pods.

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Scientist began to be concerned about J50 in July.

Last week, NOAA confirmed parasitic worms had been found in several fecal samples of the J-Pod whales with whom J50 shares fish, including with her mother. In the 2018 photos, she is in poor body condition revealing a very thin profile, and loss of fat behind the head creating a "peanut head" appearance that has become more prominent over the last month.

Officials were searching for the almost four-year-old whale in the water yesterday. Efforts to save the sick whale have not been successful. The West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network has been alerted. The search at this point is just a matter of protocol, he said.

J50 has surprised people before, going missing for days, then turning up within hours of announcements that she perhaps was gone for good.

"We are increasing water surveillance in hopes of finding her", he said on Twitter.

Milstein told the Seattle Times that those participating in the search "are not setting a timeline" for how long it may go on. The whales are threatened by toxins, ship traffic and a lack of food, specifically chinook salmon, according to the Center for Whale Research.

"The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J50 for the past three days".

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