Ailing killer whale 'J50' declared dead off Northwest US coast

'I don't want to leave you with any false hope': Scientists concerned J50 not seen for days

'I don't want to leave you with any false hope': Scientists concerned J50 not seen for days

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.

The grim news means scientists believe just 74 whales remain in a group that has failed to reproduce successfully in the past three years. The whales have been struggling with a dearth of their preferred prey, salmon, as well as pollution and boat noise.

Ken Balcomb, head of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island in Washington state said the ailing orca who was being treated by scientist since early August was last seen Friday afternoon off the west side of the islands and hasn't been seen since.

"This is a sign from the whales that all is not going well out there for recovery of the southern residents", Balcomb told the Seattle Times on Thursday.

Experts had been preparing last-ditch efforts to save the almost 4-year-old, emaciated whale that included the possibility of capturing and treating her.

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"Unfortunately J50 has not been seen in several days of favourable conditions and sightings of her pod and family group, including J16, her mother". Balcomb, who tracks the whales for the USA government, declared her dead late Thursday afternoon. "Teams were on the water searching yesterday and are increasing a broad transboundary search today with our on-water partners and counterparts in Canada".


Lead veterinarian Joe Gaydos said Wednesday the team last saw the whale September 7.

"Most of us think J50 is really sick", Vancouver Aquarium head veterinarian Martin Haulena said this week. "We haven't given up hope". But she later turned up and was seen with her family.

Still, she survived, and for a while restored hope that she could help her pod - part of an embattled population of southern resident killer whales known to frequent the waters near Washington state - to rebuild their numbers.

The high-profile cases have focused worldwide 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.

Researchers have launched a search for a sick killer whale that hasn't been seen in days.

Given the death of Tahlequah's baby, who was also a female capable of reproduction, biologists and government officials began working fervently to devise ways to nurse J50 back to health, or risk losing another potential mother.

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