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NOAA Plans Orca "Rescue"
NOAA lays plan to capture ailing orca J50, announces public meetings

"Tahlequah has become a symbol of the orcas’ peril due to human-caused pollution, underwater noise from vessels and recreational boats, and most of all, hunger. The southern residents are strictly fish eaters and depend in summer almost exclusively on chinook, another declining species.

NOAA has experience in the capture and rehabilitation of live orcas. The agency in 2002 captured Springer, or A73, a northern-resident orca whale. However, that was a very different situation: Springer was an orphan, frequenting the Vashon ferry dock and in poor health. NOAA successfully rehabilitated her in a netted-off cove before returning her to her family. She has since had two calves. The same net pen is awaiting J50, at the NOAA research facility at Manchester, Kitsap County.

The agency already has gone to extraordinary lengths to try to help J50, who is more emaciated than any whale known to survive. Shots of antibiotics have been delivered by dart, and samples of her breath taken with a petri dish held over her blow hole as she swims. A dart full of deworming medication is still planned. But so far veterinarians still don’t know what is ailing her, said Joe Gaydos, lead scientist with the nonprofit SeaDoc Society and the vet who has most recently seen J50, on Friday.

“This is a very sick whale,” Gaydos said. “She is probably so thin now … she is actually working harder to swim in the water. She is a very sick animal.” Updates on NOAA’s website with recent photos of J50 show a sharply defined indentation in her head because of lack of fat."
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