Under-fed B.C. orca can have a parasite that can be treated

On this Tuesday, August 7, 2018, the South resident orca J50 and her mother, J16, swim off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Port Renfrew, B.C.

Brian Gisborne / Fisheries and Oceans Canada via AP

An emaciated killer whale, which has been the focus of joint Canadian rescue operations, can have a common parasite that can be treated with antibiotics and a worming drug, officials say.

The three-year-old whale, known as J50 or Scarlet, has been under scrutiny since June when researchers noticed that she appeared malnourished.

Last week, the team got a fecal sample from the water where she swam with her mother and a brother or sister.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed on its website Friday that laboratory tests of the faecal sample showed high levels of contracaecum – a parasite common in orca & # 39; s and other marine mammals.

"The worm is usually not a problem for healthy animals," said the NOAA.

"However, in animals that are emaciated or otherwise affected, the parasite can enter the stomach wall, introduce bacterial infection into the bloodstream, or it can enter internal organs."

The NOAA said researchers can not be sure that the J50 sample came, but the veterinary team has made it a priority to administer antibiotics and a dewormer – both of which have been successful in other whales.

"The treatment should help J50 / Scarlet by reducing the bacterial and parasitic load of her system so she can begin to regain the weight she has lost," said the NOAA.

J50 is with the rest of its pod in waters on the west side of Vancouver Island. They are out of the reach of the response team, which operated from Friday Harbor, Washington.

But the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other partners are looking forward to the return of the whales, the NOAA said.

The loss of the J50, born in December 2014, would be a serious blow for cross-border attempts to save the endangered Southern Killer Whales, the number of which dropped to 75.

The pods – J, K and L – did not have successful births in three years and the potential reproductive skills of J50 provided hope for recovery efforts.

A week ago, researchers tried to feed the sick whale by releasing living brood salmon for her. However, it was unclear whether she actually ate the fish. If perfected, the technique could be used to administer medication to the J50 in the future.


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