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‘Progress!’ Response team able to give antibiotics to ailing, ‘very skinny’ southern resident killer whale

SEATTLE -- A federally organized response team was able to administer antibiotics to the ailing, "very skinny" 3-year-old orca J50 in U.S. waters near San Juan Island on Thursday, NOAA announced Thursday night.

"Progress!" NOAA Fisheries declared in a tweet. "Response teams reached J Pod today in Canadian waters & followed them into U.S. waters near San Juan Isl. While very skinny & small, J50 kept up with her mother & siblings. Veterinarian Marty Haulena from the Vancouver Aquarium got a thorough look at her.

"The team obtained a breath sample to help assess infection & and gave antibiotics. Next step is to determine whether to proceed w/ trial feeding, depending on conditions & location of the whales. Great work by the teams on the water!"

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, have the authority to administer antibiotics to the sick and starving 3-year-old orca known as J50.

J50 was last spotted Wednesday alongside her mother. The J Pod was seen earlier Thursday, but neither J50 nor J35, the orca carrying her dead calf, were immediately seen.

Brad Hanson with NOAA said earlier Thursday that if they didn't obtain health samples from J50 soon, opportunities to medicate the orca might dry up as rough weather is expected to come in Friday.

Researchers prefer calm seas to approach the whales, as any sampling or medication would require a long carbon fiber pole that is tough to navigate in choppy water.

"Tracking the animals in close proximity is challenging," Hanson said, mentioning breath sampling is nearly impossible in bad weather.

The U.S. and Canada have no plans to remove J50 from her pod in order to feed or medicate her, as that would likely cause too much stress to J50 and her pod.

J35 and her dead calf

J35 was spotted Wednesday carrying her dead calf, marking the 16th day of her "tour of grief." She appeared to be in good health, but carrying her offspring's carcass for more than two weeks is likely taking some toll, researchers said.

They are worried she isn't getting enough time to forage for food. Her immediate family has been spotted helping her eat.

Her dead calf - which lost its rigidity a week ago - is holding up remarkably well, NOAA officials said. Cold water may attribute to the lack of decomposition.

Still, most hope she'll drop her dead calf soon just to avoid undue stress.