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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Biologists want to feed a starving orca. But she may be dead, or in Canada

J50 with her podmate J42, taken July 21, 2018.
J50 with her podmate J42, taken July 21, 2018.

Boat crews were out again on Washington waters Tuesday looking for J50, the starving orca that’s part of the endangered Southern Resident killer whales that frequent the Pacific Northwest.

Government biologists are considering giving her antibiotics through either food or injection. But there's one possible hurdle: If she's found in Canadian waters, Canadian law doesn't allow humans to feed her.

"We just amended the marine mammal regulations to prohibit feeding marine mammals because we don't want to habituate marine mammals to people, but again we're reviewing that method right now,” said Paul Cottrell, marine mammals coordinator with the government agency Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Cottrell said the Canadian government was considering granting a special license to feed J50.

Biologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration haven’t seen J-pod since Saturday.

They said Tuesday that they’re still hoping to find J50 to do a health assessment and are considering treating her with a specialized syringe or medicine-laced salmon. But they also say they’re prepared for other outcomes.

“It is very possible that she has succumbed at this point and that we may never see her again,” said NOAA Fisheries veterinarian Teri Rowles.