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Weather may prevent NOAA, Canada from medicating sick and starving orca

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. -- Rougher weather off the coast of Washington could hinder efforts to medicate a sick and starving southern resident killer whale.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 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 Thursday, but neither J50 nor J35, the orca carrying her dead calf, were immediately seen.

Researchers said this isn't unusual as fog and weather restricted viewing.

Brad Hanson with NOAA said if they don'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.