Sick orca J50 spotted alive after missing for days and feared dead, given another antibiotics injection


J50 has been spotted and is alive, Soundwatch told Q13's Simone Del Rosario. J50 also known as Scarlet had been missing since Thursday.

A young southern resident orca known as J50 is missing and biologists fear the sick whale may be dead, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said in a release.

"We are disappointed to report that J50, the young female Southern Resident killer whale also known as Scarlet, did not return from open waters off the West Coast of Vancouver Island to the Salish Sea with J Pod over the weekend," said Michael Milstein, a spokesman with NOAA Fisheries.

Biologists from The Center for Whale Research, Soundwatch, and the University of Washington spent much of the day Sunday with other members of J Pod, including her mother (J16). J50 was not seen with them.

"We all hold out hope that J50 is still alive," NOAA Fisheries said. "We all know J50 as tough and tenacious."

NOAA Fisheries is in touch with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and other organizations with eyes on the water.

J50 was last seen Thursday (8/30) by Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans. She was reported to be with her mother and her brother (J16), but they were lagging behind most of the J Pod and J50 was lagging behind them.

"Sometimes she got closer, but she looked to be struggling to keep up," NOAA Fisheries said.

The 3 1/2-year-old female orca was severely underweight for the past year and biologists recognized her condition as grave in recent months.

An international team of biologists, veterinarians, tribes, and other partners had mobilized an unprecedented emergency effort to try to save J50 by injecting the killer whale with antibiotics and attempting to feed her live salmon, to see if it could be used to deliver medication.

Last month, NOAA Fisheries found J50 had moderate levels of a parasite that can penetrate the stomach lining or bore into internal organs.

The standard for determining the loss of any of the southern residents is to spot a whale’s family group multiple times without them. This rule may be relevant for J50 to confirm her status given how far behind the other whales she had followed at times.

J50 was part of the southern resident "baby boom" that occurred when eleven calves were born between 2014-2016. Including Scarlet, only five calves from the “baby boom” are still alive.

There are only 75 orcas left in the pods that live in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea.

"This is what extinction looks like when survival is threatened for all by food deprivation. The Southern Resident killer whales scarce presence in the Salish Sea is another indication that sufficient food is not available for them here, or along the coast. Natural salmon runs must be restored. Chief Seattle was right: 'All things are connected,'" said Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research.