Grieving orca still carrying her dead calf more than two weeks later

Grieving Orca Mother Still Carrying Her Dead Calf. It's Been 16 Days

Grieving Orca Mother Still Carrying Her Dead Calf. It's Been 16 Days

The 3 1/2-year-old orca is thin, in poor body condition and may have an infection. Now, yet another member of the highly endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales - a four-year-old female known by researchers as J50 - is seriously at risk of dying.

It's made up of three pods, all of which have been listed as endangered in both the US and Canada.

"It is very possible that she has succumbed at this point and that we may never see her again", Teri Rowles, marine mammal health and stranding coordinator for National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, told journalists during a press phone briefing Tuesday.

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. She was last spotted on Wednesday.

"All we have to go by is her physical condition and her decline in physical condition", Rowles said.

Michael Milstein with NOAA Fisheries says experts plan to do a health assessment of the young whale if conditions allow.

The Vancouver Aquarium's head veterinarian, Dr. Martin Haulena, was on the vessel assessing and treating the whale, according to statements from the aquarium and NOAA.

The carcass is "surprisingly intact", she said.

US and Canadian officials acknowledged Thursday that they're concerned that J35's apparent grieving process could prevent her from foraging, but they have no plans to intervene at this point to remove the dead calf. We know they're capable of emotions like grief because the parts of their brains that do social and emotional work are big and elaborate, and they even contain specialized empathy cells called von Economo neurons, which help highly social animals like primates, elephants and whales achieve the extreme levels of cooperation that's required of them.

The fish-eating orcas that frequent the inland waters of Washington state are down to 75 animals, and there has not been a successful birth since 2015. By the time biologists from the Center for Whale Research arrived at her side, the calf was dead.

They also face overlapping threats from toxic pollution and noise and disturbances from boats.

An worldwide team of experts is waiting to get close to the 3½-year-old killer whale known as J50 so they can carry out a step-by-step emergency plan that includes giving her antibiotics or feeding live salmon at sea.

Rowles said injections of antibiotics or sedatives have been given to other free-swimming whales or dolphins that were injured or entangled but it hasn't been done for free-swimming whales in this area.

He said a different needle could have been used to allow it to deliver the entire dose, but he didn't want the animal to have the needle remain with her for a few days or longer before it fell off.

Experts at the Whale Museum on San Juan Island have been monitoring the whale since her calf died last month. It was fed live salmon in the pen.

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