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Veterinarian who medicated ailing orca 'worried' about her survival

The veterinarian at the center of an intervention to save a sick Southern Resident orca says it's encouraging so many groups are working together to save her. But Dr. Haulena is also worried about J50's survival.

After weeks of planning in August, Dr. Martin Haulena took a historic shot from behind a dart gun aimed at a sickly killer whale.

It had never been done before. On Monday, he did it again.

"The opportunity was there where she was the closest whale into the boat," he said.

Dr. Haulena is the head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium who is at the center of a historic intervention to save a young whale's life. The starving and sickly J50 is the subject of a never-before-seen intervention to save an endangered Southern Resident orca.

Also see | New video shows attempt to inject sick orca J50

"The first time I saw her, she was an incredibly emaciated animal. She did not look that much better, if better at all, from the angles I got while we were working with her on Monday," Dr. Haulena said.

J50's plight is a reflection of her family groups, as Southern Resident killer whales face extinction with just 75 left and only a dozen reproducing.

Last weekend J50 disappeared, and many feared the worst.

"I think a lot of us thought she had passed away,” Dr. Haulena said. “I think a lot of us went, what could we have done? What could we have done?"

A celebration followed when J50 surprised everyone and was spotted alive, but still a mystery in many ways.

Also see | Ailing orca J50 spotted alive, after considered likely dead

"Data on what she is eating, how much she's eating, is she prey sharing with other members of her group? That data is invaluable. We still don't have really great images of her eating, or what she's eating. Definitely, a definitive fecal sample from her would be invaluable," Dr. Haulena said.

For Dr. Haulena, the effort is encouraging and humbling, as a variety of government agencies and non-profits, the University of Washington, private citizens and two countries have banded together.

J50 has captured the world's attention, and Dr. Haulena says the effort to save her is inspiring, even as her future is still a fragile one.

Also see | Scientists deliver salmon to ailing orca J50

"It's all a great thing to be a part of, but again, I have to stress, everybody is so worried about this whale, myself as well. There is always that overwhelming feeling of, this little girl is in trouble," he said.

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