The 3-year-old whale known as Scarlet or J50 is part of the critically endangered Southern Resident orca population.

By Kelli Bender
September 14, 2018
Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries

Just one month after a grieving orca mother carried her dead calf for weeks through the waters around San Juan Island, Washington, tragedy has struck another member of the Southern Resident population’s Jpod.

Following Tahlequah’s unprecedented mourning display, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continued to keep close tabs on the whale, also know as J35. Around the same time, NOAA also started closely monitoring another pod member, 3-year-old juvenile orca Scarlet, or J50.

The young whale caught the scientists’ attention because she appeared weak and emaciated. With the Southern Resident orca population critically endangered, every member is important for the continuation of the group, especially younger whales who could possibly mate in the future.

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NOAA has been monitoring the whale throughout August and September, providing regular updates on its website. At first the updates seemed promising—J50 was observed eating and swimming strongly throughout August, and was also given antibiotics via a dart to treat a potential parasite.

Unfortunately, in September the young orca began take a turn for the worse. She was observed lagging behind her family group and looked thinner than ever. Worried that something would happen to the whale without intervention, NOAA started working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to figure out a way to help the whale and keep her a part of the population.

On Sept. 13, NOAA announced that J50 had not been seen for several days even with “favorable conditions and sightings of her pod and family group, including J16, her mother.”

According to NBC News, scientists have declared J50 dead. Federal authorities will continue to look for the whale in hopes the conclusion is wrong.

This is another tragic blow for the Southern Resident population, which has not reproduced a healthy whale in three years. There are now only 72 whales left in the group.

These orca whales have been negatively effected by a drop in the salmon population, boat noise and pollution.