J50, or Scarlet, as she was known to the researchers tracking her, was declared dead by the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island in Washington state on September 13. Born in December of 2014, scars on her body led scientists to believe that she may have been pulled from her mother by other members of the pod during birth. When she was just 7 months old, she proved to be a very active young whale, breaching nearly 70 times as her family swam into the Salish Sea. From then on, Scarlet was one of the pod’s most well-known and well-documented whales.
Researchers at the Center were keeping a close watch on Scarlet after overhead photos taken back in August showed she had lost some 20 percent of her body weight.
Since the pod mainly calls the Pacific between Washington and British Columbia home, crews from both Canada and the United States leaped into action to try and save the whale. With only 74 in total, the southern resident killer whale population is absurdly small. In a last-ditch attempt to save her life, crews attempted to shoot the whale with antibiotics, but unfortunately, J50 succumbed to her illness.
Hatcheries and over-fishing are a big part of the problem.
Over the last decade, 42 whales in the population have died, while only three have been born.
The loss of one whale is tragic, but the loss of reproduction in the entire population is catastrophic. We are witnessing a slow-motion extinction here.
Citizen Scientist: Sarah Gayle