J17 Orca whale still in failing health, and so is her daughter

Aerial images of adult female Southern Resident killer whale “J17," displaying very poor body condition on May 6th 2019. Images obtained by Holly Fearnbach (SR3) and John Durban (NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center) using a remotely-piloted drone under NMFS Research Permit #19091.

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. -- One of the Southern Resident killer whales that had been seen in poor condition in the waters near the San Juan Islands last year has been spotted in even worse condition this spring, according to whale researchers.

A research drone spotted J17 on May 6 and photos show the whale to be even leaner and showing signs of "peanut head" which indicates a significant loss of fat (or blubber) around the head, researchers with NOAA said. J17 gave birth to J53 in 2015 and has been in deteriorating health since. J53 is also showing decline, researchers said.

J17 and J53 were last observed together and in the same area as other whales from J pod.

Researchers say they don't plan to intervene with either whale right now but "will continue to work with partners to gather additional information, evaluate options and consult with experts."

"The public can help Southern Resident killer whales by giving them space to forage undisturbed and respecting the mandated state and federal viewing distances," NOAA said.

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