Antibiotic delivered to wild killer whale in global rescue operation

Modesto Morganelli
Agosto 12, 2018

Experts are preparing rare emergency efforts to administer antibiotics or feed live salmon to try to save a young emaciated orca that's part of a critically endangered pod of killer whales. According to a 2012 study, a male killer whale over the age of 30 is three times more likely to die within a year after his mother's death.

The whale known as J50 is underweight and may have an infection.

"Our goal is to see if this is a viable option to deliver medication", she said.

"This photo will probably require a little interpretation: the spray of water and exhalation is coming from the top of J35's head, and the white tube-like structure draped over the foreground side of her head is the baby's intestine".

Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA is standing by at Friday Harbor, along with a team of vets and biologists to venture out on the waters to examine her closely.

He said they were a few hours into their six-hour day with J50 when all the conditions aligned and they made a decision to attempt to administer the antibiotics by dart.

"I certainly think that the duration of carrying the calf is unprecedented", said DFO scientist Sheila Thornton.

An global team of experts has been waiting for an opportunity to get close to the female killer whale so they can carry out an emergency plan that includes giving it antibiotics or feeding it live salmon at sea.

An worldwide team of experts has successfully administered antibiotics to ailing young orca J50 in an emergency effort to save her life, an apparent first for an orca in the wild.

Killer whales, though they have a reputation for being ruthless predators, are some of the most socially sophisticated animals in the world.

About two weeks ago, a heartbreaking picture of an orca mother carrying her dead calf tugged on the heartstrings of the Internet.

"It struck me very dramatically", he said. That data has documented orcas that declined and then disappeared. "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".

The task force is considering a range of efforts, from increasing hatchery production of salmon, training more private boats to help respond to oil spills, and prioritizing areas where important habitat can be restored.

They face nutritional stress over a lack of their preferred food source, Chinook salmon, as well as threats from toxic contamination and vessel noise and disturbances that disrupt their ability to communicate and forage. A final report is due in November. The dead calf's mother, J35, has carried its carcass for more than two weeks as it appears to grieve.

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. "There was no sign of the groups waiting for her ... she was mostly with her mom as well as her siblings".

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