Updates on the sick orca calf J 50 (Scarlet) – she’s thin but she’s a fighter (9 Sept 2018)

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Rest assured, government agencies in Canada and the US are committed to doing what they have been tasked by law to do in treating this sick young whale. Scarlet has amazed researchers in her tenacity and ability to stay with her family – albeit at her own pace – as she continues to lose body condition.
NOAA, DFO Canada, the Center for Whale Research and others are working around the clock to monitor and to strategize urgent care procedures for little Scarlet, one of the last members of the endangered Southern Resident killer whales.
The team’s priorities are clear:
First, do no harm. Under the US Endangered Species Act:

“…all federal agencies shall seek to conserve endangered and threatened species and shall use their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of the ESA…It also requires these agencies to ensure that any actions they fund, authorize, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the survival of any endangered or threatened species, or to destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat (if any).

Second, preserve the population’s viability. Under Canada’s Species at Risk laws:

In preparing a recovery strategy, action plan or management plan, the competent minister must consider the commitment of the Government of Canada to conserving biological diversity and to the principle that, if there are threats of serious or irreversible damage to the listed wildlife species, cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for a lack of full scientific certainty.



“Biologists are mobilized and responding to an emaciated and ailing three year-old killer whale (born December 2014), J50 also known as Scarlet, of the critically endangered Southern Resident population. J50 appears lethargic at times with periods of activity, including feeding. Scientists observing her agree that she is in poor condition and may not survive. Responders from NOAA Fisheries and partner organizations are exploring options ranging from no intervention to providing medical treatment, potentially delivered in a live Chinook salmon, which has never before been attempted in the wild. Potential treatment may include medication and nutrition.” Updates are from NOAA.
September 8:
J50 was seen lagging a half-mile to a mile behind the rest of her family group at times on Friday (9/7), and her body condition is not improving. She appeared to have lost more weight and looked very thin.
With growing concern, we are working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to evaluate options. Our highest priorities are to do all we can to ensure J50 remains a contributing part of the Southern Resident killer whale population and to prevent any harm to her and her family under any potential response scenario.
That is the bottom line.

J50’s deteriorating condition. (Photo: Katy Foster)

September 6:
Results are back from fecal and breath samples the team collected from a small group of J Pod whales, including J50.
Based on genetic analysis, we determined that the fecal sample (collected 8/17) likely came from J16, J50’s mother. This sample showed evidence of parasitic worms. Since J16 catches fish that she then shares with J50, the veterinary team prioritized treating J50 with a dewormer, following antibiotics.
A second fecal sample was identified as coming from J27, an adult male. Researchers at our Northwest Fisheries Science Center extracted DNA from the breath sample collected on 8/9.
While the sample was small and yielded little DNA, researchers are adapting their analysis to make the most of the available material.
J50 is still keeping up with her pod (Photo: Katy Foster)

September 4:
Biologists observing J50 on Monday (9/3) noted she was remarkably active and engaged with J Pod despite her severely emaciated condition.
J50 stayed close to her mother, J16, and continued the longer dives expected of healthy whales. Veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena of the Vancouver Aquarium provided J50 another dose of antibiotics through a dart, following up the initial dose administered on 8/9.
The treatment priority has now shifted to administering a dewormer, also through a dart, to reduce any parasitic burden on J50’s system.

September 3, 11:45 a.m.:  Good news!
Multiple organizations are reporting that J50 has been spotted with J Pod in the Salish Sea this morning. We will continue efforts to assess the health of J50 and treat her according to the priorities outlined by the team of veterinarians and scientists.
September 3: J50 was not seen returning from open waters off the West Coast of Vancouver Island to the Salish Sea with J Pod this weekend (9/1-2). 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 J16, her mother, and J50 was not seen with them.
The team has several boats on the water today to look for her. One of the last sightings by DFO on Thursday (8/30) reported that J16 and J26, J50’s brother, were lagging behind most of J Pod by about three nautical miles, and J50 was lagging about a half-mile behind them. Sometimes she got closer, but she looked to be struggling to keep up.
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 in order to confirm her status given how far behind the other whales she had followed at times.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Leave a Reply