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Young orca J50 now 'certainly' dead, says NOAA

Already thought to be dead by some, NOAA confirms young orca J50 is dead after having been missing since early September.
DFO photo of J50 off Cape Flattery, Wash., on Aug. 8, 2018 Photo by Brian Gisborne, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

A young orca who hasn't been seen for nearly two weeks is likely dead, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed.

"Certainly she is dead by now," NOAA spokesperson Michael Milstein wrote to KING 5.

The orca, known as J50, had a condition called "peanut head," which is a severe loss of fat behind the head. No one could pinpoint her exact ailment, but the majority of whales with that condition do not survive.

"J50 survived longer than any other whale we've seen in that condition, but unfortunately that window has passed," Milstein wrote.

J50 has not been seen with her pod since approximately Sept. 7. She was presumed dead by the Center for Whale Research. NOAA scaled back and then ended its search for J50 late last week.

The stranding network remains on alert and a notice was issued to mariners through the Coast Guard.

Milstein says there would be value in recovering her carcass because it could help researchers better understand the health issues Souther Resident orcas are struggling with.

The Southern Resident orca population is now 74. J50's death is the second known within the local orca population in the last few months. 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.

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.

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