Science

Grieving orca still swimming with her dead calf in Northwest

Grieving orca still swimming with her dead calf in Northwest

Ms Giles said even if the orca's family is foraging for and sharing fish with her, she can't be getting the nutrition she needs to regain any body-mass loss that would have naturally occurred during the gestation of her foetus "and also additional loss of nutrition during these weeks of mourning".

The orca who was spotted Thursday off British Columbia is thin and in poor health.

Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale scientist with Fisheries Oceans Canada, said the whale looks more like a 2-year-old though it has always been small for her age.

They spotted J35 while searching for another of the remaining 75 southern resident killer whales, labelled an endangered species in both Canada and the United States.

Brad Hanson, of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), added: "It would be very challenging and perhaps not in the best interest of the animal to go in and remove the calf".

That plan may include dumping live salmon doused with antibiotics in front of the whale, hoping she'll eat them.

The whale was first spotted carrying the calf on her nose and in her mouth on July 24.

Scientists say the animal has now fallen behind her pod and is at risk of becoming isolated. NOAA would apply for the feeding permit if conditions are right, said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries' recovery coordinator for the whales.

A team set out Thursday and found the young whale alone, said Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Martin Haulena on a conference call with reporters Friday.

"She was breathing very well; her respiratory rate was normal", he said.

"For close approaches, what we're needing to try to do is to match course and speed of the animals and then very slowly and cautiously move in so we don't disturb them", he said. "So we basically have to get within five metres of the whale", Hanson said.

USA and Canadian scientists said they were concerned about the mother's condition and would keep monitoring her but have no plans to help her or remove the calf. If she eats the salmon, researchers will discuss delivering more medication through live fish. "It's very hard to say, but certainly they're very intelligent animals and the loss of this animal is quite profound for both the (killer whales) and I think for everyone who witnesses this".

Teams of whale experts raced out to sea Thursday to help an ailing young killer whale, but they don't plan to intervene to help a mother orca in the same critically endangered pod that has been pushing the body of her dead calf for more than two weeks.

It was hearing initial recommendations focused on three main threats to the orcas: lack of food, toxic contamination and boat noise and disturbance.

Biologists will watch to see if the young whale is foraging, determine if she vomits after eating, observe the health of her scat, and obtain a fecal sample.

Because Tahlequah was pregnant, it is possible she began carrying her deceased calf with an extra boost of lipids in her blubber that could be helping her now, said Dawn Noren, research fishery biologist at NOAA's Northwest Center in Seattle.


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