The work has been frustrated by fog, weather and the whale's location.
J-pod recently drew an global spotlight when another orca, J35, was spotted pushing the body of her dead calf through the water for more than a week.
DFO has approved plans for a breath and fecal test on the whale, known as J50, if she's in Canadian waters, but has not yet received licensing approval for antibiotics. She's skinny, her cranium is showing, and her flukes are discolored; all are signs of malnutrition.
"We are hopeful that there's still a chance that we will be able to assist her", Rowles said. "The onboard veterinarian will have the discretion to make that decision in that moment of time if that is the appropriate course of action".
The race to save J50, a female with the potential to reproduce, is considered crucial for the endangered southern resident killer whale population that stands at just 75 whales. As a young female, J50 holds particularly high value because of her future reproductive capacity. The calf died about a half-hour after birth in late July. Canadian researchers says they saw J50 between 3:52 p.m. and 4:31 p.m.
"Certainly time is of the essence here", Barre said.
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"We know what's going to happen if we don't intervene at this point", said Michael Kundu, a whale advocate. The ailing orca was swimming with her mum on Wednesday.
Lynne Barre, southern resident killer whale recovery co-ordinator with the USA agency, said officials are developing treatment options based on their knowledge of illnesses that have killed orcas in the past. Cottrell says Canadian vessels are out on the waters off southwestern Vancouver Island but heavy fog is making the search hard. What would be unique is giving the orca medication through live fish, she said.
Sheila Thornton, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, says J50 was spotted with her mother but she could not say what direction they are travelling.
It is charged with examining the threats and conditions that have depleted the southern-resident killer whales, and recommending a recovery program.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee established the task force in March to address the major factors affecting orca survival, including lack of prey, environmental contaminants and disturbance by vessels. The recommendations will be finalized in the fall.
The 47-member group is at the stage of formulating short and long-term recommendations, which could include further restrictions on salmon fishing, speed limits for ferries to reduce underwater noise or increased hatchery production of Chinook salmon.