Ailing orca declared dead, but federal authorities to keep looking

Marine Biologists observe as A73 the orphaned killer whale is lifted from her pen at the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Manchester Washington and placed into a holding tank aboard the Catalina Jet. Springer will spend about 10 hours on

Marine Biologists observe as A73 the orphaned killer whale is lifted from her pen at the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Manchester Washington and placed into a holding tank aboard the Catalina Jet. Springer will spend about 10 hours on

The death leaves just 74 whales in the pod that has failed to reproduce successfully in the past three years in waters off Washington state and Canada.

Officials were searching for the almost four-year-old whale in the water yesterday. The whales have been struggling with a dearth of their preferred prey, salmon, as well as pollution and boat noise.

"Unfortunately J50 has not been seen in several days of favorable conditions and repeated sightings of her pod and family group, including J16, her mother", the agency said in a news release. Balcomb, who tracks the whales for the USA government, declared her dead late Thursday afternoon.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said boats and planes in the USA and Canada are looking but that Balcomb usually makes such calls on missing whales because he keeps the population data.

Ken Balcomb, the founding director of the US-based Center for Whale Research, told the Seattle Times he believes the whale is dead. But, he said, because the USA and Canadian governments have so many resources devoted to finding her, they planned to continue searching on Friday. In B.C., individuals can call the BC Marine Mammal Response Network at 1-800-465-4336.

"Most of us think J50 is really sick", Vancouver Aquarium head veterinarian Martin Haulena said this week. J50 went missing earlier this month but later turned up. Her family was seen Wednesday but J50 was not among them.

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.

Drone images taken earlier this month showed J50 much thinner than she was previous year.

Scientist began to be concerned about J50 in July.

"She is in such poor body condition that every other whale that has ever looked like her has already passed away".