Science

Crews continue to look for dead orca J50

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The search continues Friday for resident killer whale J50. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE — The search continues Friday for resident killer whale J50.

She’s been sick for weeks now, and on Thursday officials announced that they think she’s dead.

“We’ve been looking to see if she’s separated and alone somewhere, or if she’s passed away and maybe washed up on a beach,” said Lynn Barre, a Recovery Coordinator with NOAA.

Barre added, “Seeing J50 in such a poor body condition shows us there’s something wrong, that we need to make sure these whales have enough salmon to eat, making sure their contaminant levels are low, and that disturbances aren’t making it hard to find the chinook that’s out in the habitat.”

Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research made the call on Thursday that J50 died.

“Too little, too late is what the result was,” Balcomb said. We’re now looking for her carcass instead of a surviving whale, and I think that’s a story of the population as well.

Balcomb says the future of the Puget Sound Region’s resident killer whales is bleak. With the deaths of J50 and J35’s calf this summer, the total has increased to 42 whales dying in the past decade, and it’s been three years since the last viable baby was born.

“We have to restore the ecosystems that support it – the whales, the salmon, the birds, you know, us ultimately,” Balcomb said. “And we’re at the last minute on that, too. So, as J50 goes, so goes the population, and if they can’t reproduce, then there’s no chance of survival.

There has been a super pod gathering in Canadian waters, but still no sightings of J50. Two meetings about the orcas will be held this weekend, with one on Saturday at Friday Harbor. Another one is scheduled on Sunday in Seattle.

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