An ailing Southern Resident orca appears to be on the mend.
Center for Whale Research's Ken Balcomb spotted the killer whale known as J17 in Admiralty Inlet, along with other members of J Pod, this week.
In an encounter summary, Balcomb says the approximately 42-year-old orca is no longer showing signs of an illness called "peanut head." Peanut head is a sign of malnutrition in orcas. It's a sign of improvement based on a previous encounter on New Year's Eve.
The observations of J17 fall in line what researchers previously thought when they said they were "cautiously optimistic" the orca's health wasn't getting worse.
If J17 dies, researchers worry her son J44 won’t survive much longer either, because there’s a three times greater chance a male orca dies after his mom does.
The Southern Resident orcas are endangered. Current estimates show their population at 75. Though low, it's up one after a tough year that included a calf's death that caught the world's attention when its mother carried it for more than two weeks.