Scarlet, The Young Orca Researchers Tried Desperately To Save, Is Presumed Dead

J50 hasn’t been seen for a week; her death would be a crippling blow to the pod.

J50 Orca swims with her family
Katy Foster / Wikimedia Commons

J50 hasn’t been seen for a week; her death would be a crippling blow to the pod.

J50, better known as Scarlet, has been missing in action since September 7. The 3-year-old was one of the youngest members of the rapidly dwindling Southern Resident Killer Whales pod. This group of orcas resides in the Pacific Northwest. If Scarlet is confirmed to be dead, the critically endangered pod will be down to only 74 orcas. Even worse, it’s been more than two-and-a-half years since they’ve had a viable birth, and Scarlet’s disappearance likely marks the seventh death among the 11 orcas born between 2014 and 2016.

According to the Seattle Times, the Center for Whale Research officially declared Scarlet’s death on September 13. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) isn’t ready to co-sign her death certificate yet. Instead, the NOAA has organized a huge search and rescue mission with the assistance of the Coast Guard, the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Soundwatch, and several other organizations and individuals.

If Scarlet is found alive, she might be taken into temporary captivity where she can be examined more thoroughly and given life-saving medication.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, a veterinarian tested a sample of Scarlet’s breath last month. The NOAA then delivered antibiotics via a dart, followed by treating live fish with additional antibiotics before releasing them near the sick orca. Scarlet refused to eat the fish, and her condition continued to decline until she disappeared from view altogether.

J50 earned the nickname of Scarlet after researchers found deep scars on her body. Although there’s no way to know for sure, it’s believed that Scarlet was breech and had to be pulled free of her mother’s womb by a team of midwife orcas. After this rough delivery, Scarlet exhibited a love for leaping out of the water. In fact, she was often spotted arching her body as she breached the surface of the water up to 40 times in a single playful session.

Per the San Juan Islander, the general public was originally invited to a meeting to discuss Scarlet’s fate. However, this meeting may no longer be necessary since it was scheduled for September 15 and J50 is now presumed dead. Part of the purpose of this meeting was to discuss the controversial plan to capture and treat Scarlet. Many in the whale research and conservation committee have spoken out against this type of treatment, including Jeffrey Ventre and the Center for Whale Research.

This is the second recent tragedy for J50’s pod. Last month, the world mourned with J35 as she kept her deceased calf’s body with the pod for more than two weeks before allowing it to drop into the water. Efforts to clean up the pod’s environment and reintroduce more of the orcas’ natural food source may help slow the species decline. Without quick and effective intervention, though, it’s unlikely that Scarlet will be the last premature death.