Killer whale watch: Future of declining southern residents at risk

The number of southern residents is now 74 in three pods, whose population has fluctuated from 70 to 99 individuals since 1976.

VICTORIA — For 17 days last summer, a female orca pushed her dead calf through the Pacific Ocean, keeping the body afloat with her head in what some whale experts called a “tour of grief.”

The images of J35, also known as Tahlequah, sparked renewed interest in the plight of endangered southern resident killer whales, whose population had dwindled to just 75 members earlier in the year, following the death of L92 or “Crewser.”

Then, as J35’s vigil continued, public and media attention shifted to an ailing pod member known as J50 or Scarlet.

In the preceding weeks, researchers had become increasingly concerned about the condition of the three-year-old female, whose reproductive potential offered hope for the species’ survival.

As people watched, a team of veterinarians raced to try to save the emaciated whale’s life by using a dart to inject her with medication and attempting to feed her live salmon in hopes of using that method to supply more drugs in the future.

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