Sick Southern Resident orca hasn't been seen for 'several days'

The loss of J50 would bring the number of southern resident killer whales to just 74 animals.

The Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington said the last known sighting of J50 was September 7.

Researchers blame the decline on multiple factors including pollution, boat noise and a shortage of Chinook salmon, the orcas' preferred food.

Without J50, the population is now down to 74 members - their numbers reached almost 100 in 1995 - and many of its existing female members are nearing the age where they will no longer be able to reproduce, Ken Balcomb, founder and principal investigator of the Center for Whale Research, told The Washington Post in July. J50 has been in poor condition for months and there were concerns over the Labour Day long weekend when she was not seen with the rest of her pod in the waters between Victoria and Seattle.

Ken Balcomb, head of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island in Washington state said the ailing orca who was being treated by scientist since early August was last seen Friday afternoon off the west side of the islands and hasn't been seen since. "Unless we do something about salmon recovery, we're just not going to have these whales in the future". As teams scrambled to find her on Thursday, she failed to appear with her pod once again, despite favourable sighting conditions.

J50 is seen in 2016 with its mother J16.

The distinctive black-and-white orcas, known as southern resident killer whales, have struggled since they were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. and Canada well over a decade ago.


The sick orca has received global attention.

The whales are in such bad shape that experts prepared last-ditch efforts to save the emaciated almost 4-year-old known as J50.

Scientist began to be concerned about J50 in July. "This is a very sick whale". "Teams were on the water searching yesterday and are increasing a broad transboundary search today with our on-water partners and counterparts in Canada".

"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", the Center for Whale Research, which has been actively monitoring the pod's health, said in a statement on Thursday.

Joseph Gaydos, a wildlife veterinarian with the SeaDoc Society in Washington state, saw J50 a week ago and described her as the thinnest killer whale he'd ever seen.

Though J50 has been declared dead, federal officials said the search will continue on Friday, TIME reported.

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