Ill Orca J50 Declared Dead: “We Are Witnessing a Slow-Motion Extinction”


A sick killer whale calf spotted by scientists who have been struggling to treat since August has now died. The head of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island in Washington state, Ken Balcomb, explained that the research teams declared J50 dead on Thursday evening. J50 was only three-years-old.

Researchers haven’t spotted her since last week. They first saw her in an overhead photograph at the beginning of August and realized the calf was emaciated. This image prompted both Canadian and U.S. experts to respond and try to treat the whale with antibiotics.

Balcomb added that the only evidence that she is dead is her missing from the pod:

“We know we’re not going to get a carcass, because she was so thin her body sank to the bottom for sure. We’re calling her dead as of 5 o’clock this [Thursday] evening. Our boat is returning with no evidence that she’s alive anywhere in the population.”

Southern Resident Killer Whales Nearly Extinct

The southern resident orcas are so endangered that there are only 75 left, struggling to survive between Canadian and U.S. waters through the shipping lanes.

J50 was part of the same family as the mother orca who became internationally known for mourning and carrying her dead newborn for 17 days.

Balcomb stated that when they last saw J50, she had a condition called “peanut head,” where fat gathered behind her head as a result of severe depression:

“We’ve never seen a whale recover from that sort of emaciation.”

Balcomb added that all the whales are a little too slim because there is a problem with the small prey resource – Chinook salmon.

The last decade has had 42 deaths of orcas, and only three were born, which is a huge problem, concluded Balcomb:

“The loss of one whale is tragic, but the loss of reproduction in the entire population is catastrophic,” he said. We are witnessing a slow-motion extinction here.”


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