Ailing killer whale is declared dead off Northwest US coast

Official says ailing orca hasn't been seen with her West Coast pod for days

J50, a southern resident killer whale that had been sick for months, has not been seen by scientists since last Friday even though every other member of her family group has been observed several times in recent days.

The southern resident killer whales, which are so endangered there are just 75 left, swim between Canadian and US waters through busy shipping lanes.

Efforts to find a sick young orca from a critically endangered population of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest came up empty Thursday, and a scientist who tracks the animals declared her dead - though federal authorities said they'd keep looking. "We certainly have not determined at this point that we are giving up".

'We're watching a population marching toward extinction, ' said Ken Balcomb of the Centre for Whale Research.

Another whale in the same pod, known as J35, triggered worldwide sympathy this summer when she kept the body of her dead calf afloat in waters for more than two weeks.

J50 was part of the same family group as a mother orca who gained worldwide attention earlier this year for carrying her dead newborn, in an apparent display of mourning, for 17 days.

At the time, they said the most likely explanation was mourning.

J50 had a tough life from the start.

Ever since birth, she had to fight to live.

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She was known for her spectacular breaches, as many as 40 in a row, sometimes with her body in an arch. Her "peanut head" became more pronounced as the layers of fat disappeared from the base of her head.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tweeted shortly after the announcement stating they haven't given up and will be continuing their search from the water and in the air.

The whales are in such bad shape that experts prepared last-ditch efforts to save the emaciated almost 4-year-old known as J50.

Balcomb said the whales are trying to send a message. Debate swirled over whether the agency should act, or why it hadn't acted sooner, and the ethics of such extreme intervention.

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.

She was also not seen on Thursday, where 60 whales from J, K, and L pod were seen off Oak Bay and near Race Rocks. "They were really sweet together", Giles said.

"Our boat is returning with no evidence that she's alive anywhere in the population". The joint Canada-U.S. rescue team has twice used a dart to inject the whale with antibiotics, but her condition appeared to be worsening before she disappeared.

"I know that she is gone for a week and deceased", he said Thursday. But after seeing how thin Scarlet had become, experts said she would need more attentive rehabilitation to recover from whatever illness she has - and that would mean bringing her into captivity.

Public meetings held by NOAA to hear concerns and thoughts from the public about southern resident killer whale recovery are still on schedule for this weekend, including one at 7 p.m. Saturday in Friday Harbor at the high school and 1 p.m. Sunday at the Haggett Hall Cascade Room at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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