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NOAA scaling back efforts to find young orca J50

The orca known as J50 remains missing and presumed dead, according to Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research. NOAA announced they ended their active search for the orca Friday night.
Orca J50 near San Juan Island, Wash., on Sept 7, 2018. (Photo: Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is scaling back their search for Southern Resident orca J50 days after the young whale was presumed dead by the Center for Whale Research (CRW).

Michael Milstein, public affairs officer for NOAA, said on Friday that crews had searched all the areas they can at this point. Unless they learn more information or have a reason to search a new area, Milstein says they are pulling back.

"Her last known sighting was Friday, September 7 by our colleagues at NOAA, SeaDoc, and others. The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J50 for the past three days. We have seen all the other members of her family during these outings," CWR said in a statement on Thursday.

The 3-year-old Southern Resident killer whale was last seen emaciated, despite attempts to save her.

The West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network will remain on alert for J50, NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region said in a tweet. The U.S. Coast Guard is also staying on watch for the missing orca and issuing a notice for mariners to be on the lookout.

WATCH: 74 Southern Resident orcas remaining is a misleading tally

Though J50 sometimes lagged behind her pod, NOAA reports recent sightings of her family, but no sign of J50 for 'several days.' NOAA says the hotline to report orca strandings is 1-866-767-6114.

Southern Resident killer whales are facing several challenges, including a lack of prey, pollution, and boat noise. The Southern Resident population dwindled from 98 in 1995 to 75 in mid-June. The survival of J50 is critical to, with the number of orcas able to reproduce declining.

J50 was diagnosed with "peanut head," which is a severe loss of fat behind her head. No one could pinpoint her exact ailment, but the majority of whales with that condition do not survive.

J50's passing would be the second known death within the local Southern Resident orca population in only a few months, bringing the total number alive to just 74. Earlier in the summer, a 20-year-old whale known as J35 carried her dead calf for weeks. That was around the same time attention was turned to J50.

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