Sick whale spotted off B.C. coast, scientists hoping to get J50 medicated soon

Scientists in both the United States and Canada are hoping they can feed medicated fish to a sick killer whale off Vancouver Island, a process that has approval in the U.S. but not yet in Canada.

“There hasn’t been an application by experts to this in Canadian waters — the where, when, how,” said Paul Cottell, marine mammal coordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

“The approach is something we believe could be helpful. But our DFO experts will have to measure that.”


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DFO has approved plans for a breath and fecal test on the whale, known as J50, if she’s in Canadian waters, but has not yet received licensing approval for antibiotics.

“This is unprecedented in terms of what is occurring and some of the methodologies haven’t been done on killer whales and it’s an endangered population,” Cottell said.

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But getting the tests done has been delayed because of weather and fog in the Port Renfrew area near where the emaciated endangered orca was seen on Tuesday afternoon. Canadian researchers says they saw J50 between 3:52 p.m. and 4:31 p.m. She was staying close to her mother and moving steadily.

The whale was spotted again on Wednesday, this time in U.S. waters, but to far away for scientists to do their tests.

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The nearly four-year-old female southern resident killer whale is believed to be suffering from an infection that could kill her.

The U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has approval to attempt feeding the whale the medicated salmon but for now that could only take place in U.S. waters. If a medical assessment is done on Wednesday, the fish feeding could take place as early as Thursday.


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“It is a long-lasting antibiotic but based on what we can learn from the sampling we may consider additional treatments for fungal infections, for parasites, so there are additional medications we could consider to complement the antibiotic treatments,” said  Lynne Barre, recovery coordinator with the NOAA, said.

Scientists are still not sure why the whale has lost so much weight and believe an infection could be one of the problems. One of the great concerns for the whale is that it is part of the endangered southern-resident orcas that have declined to a population of only 75.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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