The Whale Sanctuary Project has joined an emergency effort in the Pacific Northwest to try to save the life of the orca J-50, also known as Scarlett. The four-year-old whale is emaciated and starving, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has decided to work with several local organizations to help her.
Jeff Foster and Katy Laveck Foster, Pacific Northwest site selection coordinators for the Whale Sanctuary Project, are coordinating much of the field work, working hand-in-hand with veterinarians, researchers, and other organizations to conduct the health assessment of J-50, and to develop the protocols for delivering live fish to her, along with medication if that becomes necessary. Katy is also providing photo and video documentation for the NOAA team effort.
Over recent weeks, Scarlett has lost about 20 percent of her body weight and it appears that her life is in the balance. She is so thin that she has “peanut head,” meaning that the back of her cranium is visible. A white patch that’s been spotted near her blowhole could be a sign of an infection.
She is a member of the J pod, one of three extended orca families known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). Their numbers have been dwindling due to lack of their only food source, Chinook salmon, along with ever-increasing environmental pollution and boat noise. The SRKW are now listed as an endangered species, and only 75 remain.
As a young female, Scarlett is one of few among the J pod who represent the next generation of whales. (Two weeks ago, another of their family, Tahlequah/J-35, gave birth to a baby daughter, but the infant only survived for half an hour. Since then, Tahlequah has been carrying the body of her infant as she and the family continue their daily search for food.)
“The situation facing the Southern Resident population is dire, and every member of J, K and L pods is important,” said Charles Vinick, Executive Director of the Whale Sanctuary Project. “Our team has expertise in the effort to assess J-50’s health and to provide help to her at this critical time. It is something we must do and as much as we are committed to improving the welfare of captive whales, we must also do all we can to help wild whales.”
The relief effort for Scarlett, which began on August 3rd, involves acquiring health assessment data through breath and fecal cultures, providing supplemental food, and, if data indicates that medication may be warranted, providing medication through the supplemental food.
Time is of the essence and plans to locate Scarlett and her family have been thwarted by fog over the Salish Sea.
Members of the Lummi Nation have been rehearsing what it will take to deliver live fish to Scarlett. Jay Julius, chairman of the Lummi Nation, and other tribal leaders collected salmon from a local hatchery and took them to one of the locations that members of the team hope the pod will visit in the next few days.
“Everything has to fall into place,” Julius told Lynda Mapes of the Seattle Times aboard their boat, the Lengesot. “We need lots of prayer and optimism and belief. Everything has to align. We are going to give it our all. And we are ready. Now it is time to pray, pray, pray.”