Conservationists mourn loss of sick orca

The orca known as J50 was seen with her family on Sept. 3, but is no longer part of the group. (Center for Whale Research Photo / Dave Ellifrit)

The emaciated and ailing killer whale known as J50 or Scarlet has disappeared from her family group, and experts presume that she’s dead. Nevertheless, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its partners are continuing the effort to find her, dead or alive.

“We have alerted the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which is a tremendous resource in such situations,” NOAA said in its Sept. 13 update. “Airlines flying in and out of the San Juan Islands are also on the lookout.”

NOAA said the hotline for stranding reports is 1-866-767-6114.

The last confirmed sighting of J50 was reported on Sept. 7 by NOAA, the SeaDoc Society and other observers. J50’s presumed loss comes after weeks of efforts to get her medicine and extra food. Experts were never able to diagnose exactly what was ailing the whale.

The 3-year-old orca’s plight captured worldwide attention over the past couple of months. So did the case of J35, also called Tahlequah, another orca from the same pod who was seen carrying her dead calf for 17 days this summer.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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