Scientists concerned about endangered orca still pushing body of her calf

The whale known as J35 was spotted in coastal waters near the border between B.C. Wednesday

An endangered orca is not letting go of her newborn calf, whose body she has been pushing through the water for more than two weeks.

The whale known as J35 was spotted in coastal waters near the border between British Columbia and Washington state Wednesday with the carcass of her calf that was born and died on July 24.

Sheila Thornton, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said experts are becoming concerned that the whale’s behaviour will interfere with her ability to forage.

No intervention is planned, she said, but they will monitor her condition.

“I certainly think the duration of carrying the calf is unprecedented,” she said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

“You can look at that as mourning behaviour, there are a lot of different theories out there. It’s very difficult 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.”

The carcass is “surprisingly intact,” she said.

Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in the United States, said removing the calf, in order to encourage the whale to forage, is not an option.

“Obviously the connection they’ve formed with this calf is substantial and it’s something that we do have to take into account,” he said.

They spotted J35 while searching for another of the remaining 75 southern resident killer whales, labelled an endangered species in both Canada and the United States.

Scientists on both sides of the border have been working together on an emergency rescue plan for a young female orca known as J50 that appears emaciated but continues to swim alongside her mother.

Foggy conditions and ocean swells have prevented the teams from collecting breath and fecal samples, which requires getting within five metres of the young orca while matching her pace.

READ MORE: Scientists probe ‘next steps’ after emaciated orca finally spotted in B.C. waters

The earliest the weather is forecasted to clear up is Sunday, Hanson said, and the plan will be easier if the whales move closer to the coast.

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. If that goes well, they say they will try feeding her Chinook salmon filled with other medication.

The plan hit a snag in Canada, which has taken longer to get licences in place than in the United States. But as of Wednesday night, Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it has received an application from NOAA to administer the antibiotics. The salmon-feeding plan is still under review.

“We are working closely with NOAA and are considering every possible option available to us to save this whale. Our decision will be evidence-based and we will act quickly together with our partners when the conditions are right to move ahead with any action,” the federal department said in a statement.

“We are prepared to issue permits for the best course of action for this whale without delay.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Port Alberni’s West Coast Rangers hold rendezvous

Three-day event featured historical re-enactment

Port Alberni Port Authority talks logistics for cruise ship visit

Some restrictions for pedestrians, boaters will be in place

Port Alberni’s ‘Army of Problem Solvers’ to the rescue

Facebook group gathers people who just want to help their neighbours

Hurricane Katrina inspires Alberni author’s new novel

Jacqueline Swann brings message of climate change to life with story of fictional journalist

Port Alberni RCMP searching for missing teenage girl

16-year-old Lasheena Seward was reported missing from a group home on May 9

600 new campsites coming to provincial parks and recreation sites across B.C.

Tourism Minister announced half of the new spots to 13 most popular provincial parks

B.C. Supreme Court dismisses judicial review around ferry workers’ right to strike

B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union collective agreement expires November 2020

Municipalities protest after B.C. declares marijuana crops ‘farm use’

UBCM president seeks answers in letter to John Horgan government

CMHC defends mortgage stress test changes amid calls for loosening rules

Uninsured borrowers must now show they could service their mortgage if rates rose two per cent

B.C. woman left ‘black and blue’ after being pushed off 40-foot cliff at lake

West Shore RCMP looking for witnesses as investigation continues

Thunderstorms to bring heavy rain, risk of flash floods in the southern Interior

Ten to 30 millimetres of rain to fall over the early weekend

Unbe-leaf-able: Agassiz man finds more than 200 four-leaf clovers in a month

Walt Hardinge has found more than 219 four-or-more leaf clovers this spring alone

Crews fight fire with fire to keep blaze from northern Alberta town

The wildfire now covers some 920 square kilometres

Man in B.C. charged with murder and arson in 2016 New Brunswick death

He is charged in the death of 71-year-old Lucille Maltais, who was found inside a burned down home

Most Read