Antibiotic delivered to wild killer whale in global rescue operation

Lummi tribal members and Washington Fish and Wildlife staffers untangle a chinook Friday from a net used to transfer it to the King County vessel SoundGardian. (Alan Berner  The Seattle Times Image taken under the authority of NMFS MMPA  ESA Permit No. 1

Lummi tribal members and Washington Fish and Wildlife staffers untangle a chinook Friday from a net used to transfer it to the King County vessel SoundGardian. (Alan Berner The Seattle Times Image taken under the authority of NMFS MMPA ESA Permit No. 1

A team of whale experts has injected an ailing killer whale with antibiotics in a rare emergency effort to save her. NOAA officials say her condition is being monitored.

With the whale far away and a bin full of salmon pulled that morning from a state hatchery, crews did a practice run to work out the logistics of feeding live fish to a whale while staying ahead of it in a boat.

Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research said the southern resident orca J35 was spotted Thursday in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the south shore of Vancouver Island. He said the whale is incredibly skinny but was swimming well and there were no obvious signs of abnormality with her skin. It wasn't clear whether she had been eating.

It was dramatic how thin she was, Haulena said, adding that he wants to know more about her digestive system and whether she's been eating.

"For close approaches, what we're needing to try to do is to match course and speed of the animals and then very slowly and cautiously move in so we don't disturb them", he said. He and others followed the whale on the water for about six hours Thursday and got a breath sample to analyze whether she might have bacteria or fungus in her airway.

She said it became evident that "we needed to intervene to determine potentially what was the cause and whether there was anything we could do to assist her".

Michael Milstein, a spokesman with NOAA Fisheries, told KIRO that researchers with Fisheries and Ocean Canada also spotted another member of the same pod on Wednesday.

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The orca, which was last seen Friday, is part of an endangered population that has dwindled to just 75 whales.

The last time a southern resident birthed a calf that lived more than a few months was L123 in November, 2015.

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.

"If they're travelling, it's challenging", said Hanson.

The whales face nutritional stress over a lack of Chinook salmon as well as threats from toxic contamination and vessel noise and disturbances.

"The big question is, can we craft public policy that can make a difference in the future of the orca, and by doing so make a positive difference in how we live in Puget Sound", Purce said in an interview Monday. Her baby had died soon after it was born, and its body had started to decompose on the ninth day. She was seen again Thursday, still holding on to the remains.

"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". She returned to her family of whales in Canada later that year and was seen with her calf in 2013.

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