Published: Fri, September 14, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Ailing orca J50 is missing and presumed dead

Ailing orca J50 is missing and presumed dead

The southern resident killer whale J50, also known as Scarlet, hasn't been seen for several days and has been now presumed dead.

We are saddened to report that J50 is missing and now presumed dead.Her last known sighting was Friday, September 7 by...

The orcas have struggled with pollution, boat noise and, most severely, a lack of their preferred prey, chinook salmon, because of dams, habitat loss and overfishing.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said boats and planes in the US and Canada are looking but that Balcomb usually makes such calls on missing whales because he keeps the population data.

"The message brought by J50, and by J35 and her dead calf a few weeks ago, is that the [the whales] are running out of reproductive capacity and extinction of this population is looming", the group wrote.

The Center for Whale Research said that the orca and her group became separated from the main pod somewhere in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. "Unless we do something about salmon recovery, we're just not going to have these whales in the future".

The distinctive black-and-white orcas, known as southern resident killer whales, have struggled since they were listed as an endangered species in the United States and Canada well over a decade ago.

The high-profile cases have focused worldwide attention on the plight of southern resident killer whales, whose numbers have dwindled to 75 and now - if J50 has died - to 74 in three pods.

J50's condition has been getting worse and scientists were considering a last-ditch plan to capture the emaciated killer whale for treatment.

Scientist began to be concerned about J50 in July. Her mother, J16, has also declined in condition in the past month. They said the controversial step would only be taken as a last resort to treat the whale and release her back to the wild. Efforts to save the sick whale have not been successful. "Teams were on the water searching yesterday and are increasing a broad transboundary search today with our on-water partners and counterparts in Canada".

Crews in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, 10 vessels, whale watch crews and other resources on both sides of the border were involved in the search.

J50's likely death is just another sign of the perilous situation the southern resident killer whale population is facing.

Balcomb said he has a boat out looking for her and would join in the search later in the day to make an official announcement.

Though J50 has been declared dead, federal officials said the search will continue on Friday, TIME reported.

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