The saga of a sick orca has taken a new turn.
In an update today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that J50, also known as Scarlet, "has not been seen in several days", despite favourable conditions and sightings of her family members.
It's one of 75 endangered southern resident orcas that reside in the cross-boundary waters of the Salish Sea.
"We have alerted the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which is a tremendous resource in such situations," NOAA Fisheries states on its website. "Airlines flying in and out of the San Juan Islands are also on the lookout. The hotline for stranding reports is 1-866-767-6114."
Two days ago, NOAA Fisheries and its "partners" were exploring ways to save the three-year-old killer whale.
On Saturday (September 15) and Sunday (September 16), NOAA Fisheries is hosting public meetings at Friday Harbor and the University of Washington in Seattle on potential steps that can be taken.
In the meantime, an online petition has been posted on change.org calling on the NOAA not to capture J50.
"Any attempt to intervene with these endangered whales is incredibly stressful to the pod," the petition states. "Trauma of a capture would likely be intolerable both to J-50 Scarlet and her family."
As of this writing, it has collected 914 signatures.
The animal-welfare group Lifeforce has alleged that J50 "may be captured through a Sea World fund with the National Fish and Wildlife Federation".
"J50 and others must never be exploited as 'untapped resources' for 'research tools' and so-called entertainment in cement prisons!" Lifeforce declared in a statement.
Earlier this month, Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Martin Haulena administered antibiotics to J50 with a dart.
Fecal and breath samples indicate that J50's mother, J16, might have parasitic worms, according to NOAA Fisheries.
"Since J16 catches fish that she then shares with J50, the veterinary team prioritized treating J50 with a dewormer, following antibiotics," it states on its website.
Today, the Center for Whale Research declared that J50 was "presumed dead" because there have been no known sightings since September 7.
Here's the Washington state–based organization's entire statement:
J50 is missing and now presumed dead.
Her last known sighting was Friday, September 7 by our colleagues at NOAA, SeaDoc, and others. The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J50 for the past three days. We have seen all the other members of her family (i.e., J16s) during these outings.
Watching J50 during the past three months is what extinction looks like when survival is threatened for all by food deprivation and lack of reproduction. Not only are the Southern Resident killer whales dying and unable to reproduce sufficiently, but also their scarce presence in the Salish Sea is an indication that adequate food is no longer available for them here, or along the coast. In accordance with an urgent plea by the American Fisheries Society in 2006, natural Chinook salmon runs must be restored throughout their range to avoid their extinction. We have known for twenty years that these fish, in particular, are essential to the SRKW diet. Chief Seattle was right: 'All things are connected.' Humans are connected, too.
In the United States, the biggest recovery of natural Chinook salmon is possible with dam-breaching of the Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) – the Alternative 4 option in the Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of 2002 – the legal instrument for their continued operation after options 1-3 have now failed. The dams lose huge amounts of money for the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) and its rate-payers; they are now obsolete for all of their wished-for purposes; they kill millions of salmon and have driven them to near extinction; and, now we find that they have been largely responsible for the population decline of the Southern Resident killer whales, particularly in the coastal-feeding L pod. In the inland marine waters of Washington State, all of the pods have been negatively impacted by the extinction of once bountiful Chinook salmon runs in the Puget Sound region of the Salish Sea.
In Canada, the Fraser River system stocks of natural Chinook salmon have been decimated by overfishing, pollution from mine-tailing dam failures and other mishaps involving toxic chemical spills in the river, and development of industry and agriculture in the Fraser River delta region so important to the life cycle of juvenile salmon. And that is not to mention the policy of allowing fish farms in lieu of responsible management of natural populations of salmon that has been catastrophic to the SRKW food supply in Strait of Georgia region of the Salish Sea.
The message brought by J50, and by J35 and her dead calf a few weeks ago, is that the SRKW are running out of reproductive capacity and extinction of this population is looming, while the humans convene task forces and conference calls that result in nothing, or worse than nothing, diverting attention and resources from solving the underlying ecological problems that will ultimately make this once-productive region unlivable for all.