Scientists concerned about endangered orca still pushing body of her calf

John Durban  NOAA Fisheries FILE

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.

Scientists are reporting progress in the race to help an emaciated and endangered West Coast killer whale in the waters of the Salish Sea.

Seventy five per cent of the incidents were of adult females looking after their dead calf, with some of them carrying decomposing bodies for up to a week.

An audio recording, believed to be the mother orca taken earlier this month, featured calls that were "mournful and prominent", according to Q13FOX.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research on Thursday saw Tahlequah still continuing to carry the calf, born July 24, for the 17th straight day.

After great white shark carcasses started washing ashore in South Africa, researchers pointed the finger at an unlikely predator: killer whales.

A federally organized response team was able to administer antibiotics to the ailing, "very skinny" 3-year-old orca J50 in US waters near San Juan Island on Thursday, NOAA announced Thursday night.

A team of whale experts injected an ailing Southern Resident orca with antibiotics Thursday in a rare emergency effort to save her. Another female orca from the group that spends time in U.S. Northwest waters attracted global attention as the grieving animal tried to keep her dead baby afloat.

"She appears to be in distress and may not be feeding successfully, so we are asking vessels continue to give her a wide berth", said DFO regional director Andrew Thomson. In addition, since J35 has just given birth, she "may have extra lipid stores built up" that were preparing her body for nursing.

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While he is part of the core veterinarian team trying to save the whale, it was the first time he'd seen the animal in person.

This is the latest troubling sign for a population already at its lowest in more than three decades.

Scientists are anxious that Tahlequah, or J35, is not getting adequate food because she has been carrying her baby for so long.

"I think that's one of the things that's most worrisome to me".

The orcas are distinct from other killer whales because they eat salmon rather than marine mammals.

It's also not only a matter of weather; the whales themselves have to be in the right position and behavior to attempt a medical intervention.

"This is completely unprecedented, and honestly your guess is as good as ours as far as what is going on here", Deborah Giles, a research scientist at the University of Washington's Center for Conservation Biology, said in a phone interview.

"The big question is, can we craft public policy that can make a difference in the future of the orca, and by doing so make a positive difference in how we live in Puget Sound", Purce said in an interview Monday.

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

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