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Rescue team rushes to help ailing orca spotted off B.C.

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An adult female Southern Resident killer whale with her calf in Pacific Northwest waters

In this Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, Southern Resident killer whale J50 and her mother, J16, swim off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Port Renfrew, B.C. J50 is the sick whale that a team of experts are hoping to save by giving her antibiotics or feeding her live salmon at sea.

Just like humans, they're still mourning, which ultimately show how emotional and intelligent killer whales are.

Several recent scientific papers and publications have documented grieving behavior in whales and dolphins, and scientists working in the Salish Sea have themselves witnessed similar sad sights of mothers carrying deceased calves.

"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 Center for Whale Researchers confirmed that she was still seen pushing the now-deteriorating corpse of her newborn calf.

"This type of grief in people often goes underground, it's, 'It's just a dog, an animal, move on.' People go underground with these feelings, they are delegitimized".

Tahlequah, the 20-year-old mother orca, is also known as J35, and researchers fear she could be in danger.

'It is awful. This is an animal that is a sentient being, ' Deborah Giles, science and research director for the nonprofit Wild Orc said. Scientists had no plans to take the calf away from J35 or her pod, noting the "tight bond, "reports The Seattle Times".

An global team has been waiting for the chance to get close to the female killer whale to help her, including possibly giving her antibiotics or feeding her live salmon at sea.

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

They also face overlapping threats from toxic pollution and noise and disturbances from boats.

Brad Hanson of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says hard conditions have prevented the teams from collecting breath and fecal samples but they are hoping weather conditions improve by Sunday.

Orca J50 with sister J42.

"This is a novel undertaking", Mr Hanson said. It takes a calf a little under a year and a half to fully develop in the womb, and they nurse for another year. That data has documented orcas that declined and then disappeared. Because of how long she had been doing this, the pressing concerns if she's still eating or if she's been given food by other members of the pod are starting to heavily louden.

"Even if her family is foraging for and sharing fish with her, J35 can not be getting the. nutrition she needs to regain any body-mass loss that would have naturally occurred during the gestation of her fetus and also additional loss of nutrition during these weeks of mourning", she said.

The fish are being delivered by truck from a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery for loading into a tote on the Lummi Nation's boat.

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