Teams trying to save ailing orca practice feeding live fish off Lummi Nation boat and SoundGuardian

The King County SoundGuardian was featured in a recent article by the Associated Press, highlighting its participation in efforts to save a sick orca whale in Puget Sound.

Teams taking drastic measures to save a young, ailing killer whale loaded up two boats with fat live salmon as the sun rose Friday and rushed to waters off Washington state’s San Juan Island, preparing if needed to test-feed the critically endangered orca a day after injecting it with medicine.

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Image courtesy of the Associated Press

By early afternoon, it appeared the 3½-year-old female orca called J50 was too far north in Canadian waters and any trial feeding effort would not happen, Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is leading response efforts in the field, told reporters out on the water.

For now, the unprecedented attempt to feed live salmon to a free-swimming killer whale would have to wait.

The team led by the U.S. agency lacks a permit to feed the whale, which is emaciated and possibly suffering an infection, in Canadian waters, though it had one for medical treatment. NOAA would apply for the feeding permit if conditions are right, said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries’ recovery coordinator for the whales.

The agency wants to see whether it can deliver medication to the whale through live Chinook salmon but first needs to test whether the orca will take its preferred food source.

With the whale far away and a bin full of salmon pulled that morning from a state hatchery, crews did a practice run to work out the logistics of feeding live fish to a whale while staying ahead of it in a boat. One by one, crews aboard a boat belonging to the Lummi Nation, an American Indian tribe, sent the plump salmon into a turquoise tube and then into the water.

Researchers with the Whale Sanctuary Project practiced taking samples of fish scales so they can later genetically track whether the whale consumed that fish. A King County research vessel drove alongside, also carrying fish, to provide support.

Read more at the Associated Press. Image courtesy of The Associate Press.