Endangered orca that sparked global rescue plan spotted in B.C. waters

Lummi Hereditary Chief Bill James center, leads a blessing aboard a Lummi Nation Natural Resources Enforcement boat before departing Bellingham

DFO has approved plans for a breath and fecal test on the whale, known as J50, if she's in Canadian waters, but has not yet received licensing approval for antibiotics.

"It hasn't been done before so we'll have to quickly licence that and put in place".

"It is very possible that she has succumbed at this point and that we may never see her again", said NOAA Fisheries veterinarian Teri Rowles.

The orca known as J50 appears emaciated and scientists have said she may have only days to live.

Cottrell said the Canadian government was considering granting a special license to feed J50.

Lynne Barre, southern resident killer whale recovery co-ordinator with the US agency, said officials are developing treatment options based on their knowledge of illnesses that have killed orcas in the past.

At only three and a half years old, experts have said she has reproductive potential and could play a vital role in the southern residents' 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.

An adult female, J35, was also with the pod, still carrying her dead calf more than two weeks after the newborn died on July 24.

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Veterinarians in the USA are prepared to try to deliver antibiotics by pole or dart - or feed her with medication-dosed Chinook salmon - if she's still in US waters when they locate her.

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".

If J50 is in American waters and needs antibiotics, Rowles said the next step will be to administer an antibiotic that lasts 10 to 14 days.

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. The whale would initially get just a few fish to see whether she takes it and how she and members of her pod respond before deciding whether to give her salmon dosed with medication.

"We want to separate the antibiotic treatment from the fish feeding effort because we do not want her to associate with the fish feeding that she's going to get a shot", Rowles said.

"This is unprecedented in terms of what is occurring and some of the methodologies haven't been done on killer whales and it's an endangered population", Cottell said.

It's not unusual for wild whales to be out of sight for some time, but J-50's condition was so poor it's not clear how long she has left.

Conditions had improved Wednesday morning, with less fog, making researchers more hopeful the animals will be found.

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