Ailing orca J50 is missing and presumed dead

The three-year-old orca, known as J50, has been not been since Friday off San Juan Island.

"Unfortunately J50 has not been seen in several days of favorable conditions and repeated sightings of her pod and family group, including J16, her mother", the agency said in a news release.

Researchers blame the decline on multiple factors including pollution, boat noise and a shortage of Chinook salmon, the orcas' preferred food. "What J50 needed, and what her family continues to need, is healthy and abundant chinook salmon, which these orcas depend upon for survival".

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said boats and planes in the USA and Canada are looking but that Balcomb usually makes such calls on missing whales because he keeps the population data.

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. "Unless we do something about salmon recovery, we're just not going to have these whales in the future". 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.

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

The sick orca has received worldwide attention.

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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.

The whales are in such bad shape that experts prepared last-ditch efforts to save the emaciated almost 4-year-old known as J50. Efforts to save the sick whale have not been successful.

"Teams were on the water searching yesterday and are increasing a broad transboundary search today with our on-water partners and counterparts in Canada", NOAA Fisheries said. "We haven't given up hope".

He believes she died between last Friday and Monday.

The NOAA alerted the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network and reported that flights in and out of the San Juan Islands were watching for the whale.

Researchers have launched a search for a sick killer whale that hasn't been seen in days. The search at this point is just a matter of protocol, he said.

Joseph Gaydos, a wildlife veterinarian with the SeaDoc Society in Washington state, saw J50 a week ago and described her as the thinnest killer whale he'd ever seen.

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