NOAA: Ailing orca J50 spotted; crews ready to provide aid

Fate of starving orca in question as J-pod not spotted for days

Scarlet, also known as J50, was last seen in Canadian waters Saturday, on the west side of Vancouver Island.

J-50 is almost four years old and part of the critically endangered southern residents, a population of killer whales with only about 75 individuals.

As a female with reproductive potential, scientists say she could play a vital role in her species' recovery if she survives.

Paul Cottrell of Fisheries and Oceans Canada says a federal research team saw J50 Tuesday afternoon near Port Renfrew, B.C., but conditions were so foggy that they couldn't assess her condition.

J-pod recently drew an global spotlight when another orca, J35, was spotted pushing the body of her dead calf through the water for more than a week. "They could initially hear the whales through hydrophones and then they located them". The first step, now that she has been recovered, will be a health assessment.

The U.S. -based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has approval to attempt feeding the whale the medicated salmon but for now that could only take place in U.S. waters. This will likely involve sampling J50's breath from a close range and collecting fecal samples. The next step will be to administer antibiotics. The emergency plan is to inject the killer whale with antibiotics through a pole system from a boat.

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Rowles said that while the research boats are out in the water searching for Scarlet, they have to keep a distance at least 200 yards to make sure that they don't further stress the sick, young whale or other whales.

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".

"It's been a number of days since Friday, so it was great to see J50", Cottrell said.

Scientists and researchers are in a race against time, struggling to save an ailing 3-year-old killer whale named Scarlet which has gone missing.

The young female orca has sparked an worldwide rescue effort by Canadian and American scientists who have developed a novel plan to feed her salmon medicated with antibiotics. She was the first orca to be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released back into the wild.

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