Scientists concerned about endangered orca still pushing body of her calf

The whale known as J35 was spotted in coastal waters near the border between B.C. Wednesday

An endangered orca is not letting go of her newborn calf, whose body she has been pushing through the water for more than two weeks.

The whale known as J35 was spotted in coastal waters near the border between British Columbia and Washington state Wednesday with the carcass of her calf that was born and died on July 24.

Sheila Thornton, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said experts are becoming concerned that the whale’s behaviour will interfere with her ability to forage.

No intervention is planned, she said, but they will monitor her condition.

“I certainly think the duration of carrying the calf is unprecedented,” she said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

“You can look at that as mourning behaviour, there are a lot of different theories out there. It’s very difficult 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.”

The carcass is “surprisingly intact,” she said.

Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in the United States, said removing the calf, in order to encourage the whale to forage, is not an option.

“Obviously the connection they’ve formed with this calf is substantial and it’s something that we do have to take into account,” he said.

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.

Scientists on both sides of the border have been working together on an emergency rescue plan for a young female orca known as J50 that appears emaciated but continues to swim alongside her mother.

Foggy conditions and ocean swells have prevented the teams from collecting breath and fecal samples, which requires getting within five metres of the young orca while matching her pace.

READ MORE: Scientists probe ‘next steps’ after emaciated orca finally spotted in B.C. waters

The earliest the weather is forecasted to clear up is Sunday, Hanson said, and the plan will be easier if the whales move closer to the coast.

The experimental, emergency plan to save J50 requires scientists to nail down her ailments through breath and fecal samples, then administer long-lasting antibiotics by either pole-mounted syringe or dart. If that goes well, they say they will try feeding her Chinook salmon filled with other medication.

The plan hit a snag in Canada, which has taken longer to get licences in place than in the United States. But as of Wednesday night, Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it has received an application from NOAA to administer the antibiotics. The salmon-feeding plan is still under review.

“We are working closely with NOAA and are considering every possible option available to us to save this whale. Our decision will be evidence-based and we will act quickly together with our partners when the conditions are right to move ahead with any action,” the federal department said in a statement.

“We are prepared to issue permits for the best course of action for this whale without delay.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Comox Valley RCMP seeking help to identify suspect

The Comox Valley RCMP is looking for assistance from the public to… Continue reading

Printmakers association and fair in Cumberland

The Comox Valley Printmakers Association is holding a members’ exhibition and print… Continue reading

Cumberland mayoral debate announced prematurely; Leslie Baird declines invitation

Eduardo Uranga hoped to hold the debate Wednesday evening

‘Police are ready’ for legal pot, say Canadian chiefs

But Canadians won’t see major policing changes as pot becomes legal

VIDEO: Care-A-Van offers more than just care in a van

Mobile clinic brings medical and social services to the Valley’s most vulnerable

Rick Mercer says pot is ‘excruciatingly boring’

Comedian hopes Canadians will move onto something else once marijuana is legalized

Federal government tables bill to transform prisoner segregation

Administrative and disciplinary segregation will be eliminated by Ottawa

Courtenay’s Dingwall Road to be temporarily closed for construction

Next week, the intersection of Dingwall Road and McQuillan Road will be… Continue reading

CFL expecting little to no impact from legalization of marijuana in Canada

The league tests only for performance-enhancing substances and not recreational drugs like cannabis

BCTF wins grievance over teacher shortage in public schools

Arbitrator found Chilliwack school district did not hire enough on-call teachers or librarians

Comox Valley RCMP seeking help to identify suspect

The Comox Valley RCMP is looking for assistance from the public to… Continue reading

Workers at BC Interior mill strike as negotiations resume in Kelowna

Picket lines went up at 4 a.m Tuesday, Oct. 16 at Tolko Lakeview Division in Williams Lake

Fall-ing for unseasonably warm weather on Vancouver Island

Environment Canada forecast calls for sunshine through weekend

Most Read