British Columbia

Ailing killer whale off B.C. coast diagnosed with parasitic worms

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says biologists are standing by to deliver a dart with deworming medication to J50, a young, sickly killer whale that had become separated with others from a main pod that swims between Canadian and U.S. waters off the West Coast.

J50 is set for a dose of deworming medication, scientists say

J50 keeps up with her pod near San Juan Island, Wash., on Aug. 9. (Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries)

Scientists say an emaciated and endangered killer whale that's been swimming in waters off the West Coast has parasitic worms.

Michael Milstein of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in an email that biologists are standing by to deliver a dart with deworming medication to J50.

The young orca is part of a group that became separated from a main pod that swims between Canadian and U.S. waters in shipping lanes to Vancouver and Seattle.

The administration's Facebook page says genetic analysis of some results of fecal and breath samples the team collected shows the evidence of parasitic worms.

J50 is seen with its mother, J16. One fecal sample from J16 also showed evidence of parasitic worms. (Tasli Shaw/Steveston Seabreeze Adventures)

The administration has previously said the nearly four-year-old whale, also known as Scarlet, appears lethargic at times with periods of activity, and that she is in poor condition and may not survive.

The statement also says researchers in Seattle have a DNA breath sample collected from J50 last month, and while it yielded little DNA, they are adapting their analysis to make the most of the available material.

The Vancouver Aquarium's head veterinarian, Martin Haulena, was able to dart the sickly whale with an antibiotic on Monday.

The distressed southern resident killer whale has been the focus of a cross-border emergency response from fisheries officials and veterinarians for several weeks after images revealed the whale had lost 20 per cent of its body weight. 

Worms are not usually a problem in healthy animals, but the parasite can penetrate the stomach lining in thin, weak or compromised animals and cause a bacterial infection in the bloodstream or bore into internal organs. 

With files from CBC News

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