- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

SEATTLE (AP) Scientists advising the federal government on a sick, orphaned killer whale swimming alone in central Puget Sound say she should be captured and treated, but the government wants some assurance that intervention would help.
Her symptoms could suggest a genetic problem requiring continuing medication or a special diet impossible if she is returned to the wild. The National Marine Fisheries Service has obtained a blood sample for tests that could help make that clear, and results are expected in about a week.
"We don't want to capture this whale knowing the likely outcome is a one-way ticket to a display facility somewhere," said NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman.
On the other hand, if the whale's health problems can be resolved quickly, the Vancouver Aquarium has agreed to help with her relocation to a net pen so she can be treated in her natural environment.
Her family known as A pod usually spends June to September near Vancouver Island, and "we need to get cracking" to prepare for a potential reunion, aquarium spokeswoman Angela Nielsen said.
Killer whales, members of the dolphin family, are found in all the world's oceans, but A pod and the other two pods that are resident along the Northwest coast are struggling for survival, with their population at 80, down from 98 in 1995.
Animal behaviorist Dave Bain, among the scientists consulting with NMFS, said any rehabilitation effort should begin immediately.
"If what she has is curable and treatable, her chances of reintegration [with her pod] go down the longer we wait," said Mr. Bain, an affiliate faculty member in psychology at the University of Washington.
The young orca named A-73 for pod and birth order has two apparent health problems. A skin ailment has led to discoloration and sloughed skin over much of her body, now nearing sensitive areas around her blowhole and eyes. She also has ketosis, producing breath that smells like paint thinner, which in humans can mean starvation, diabetes both considered unlikely or a complicated metabolic problem.
In addition, she is underweight and researchers have found fecal parasites that could cause problems if untreated.
Killer whales are highly social, and she is missing out on education and bonding with her natal pod, which apparently has left her behind after her mother's death last year. The A pod is never seen in Puget Sound, and she may have wandered in looking for food. Mr. Gorman says she has no surviving siblings.
She plays with driftwood and sometimes rubs herself against logs for three hours at a stretch, an indication that she is lonely, scientists say. She had been hunting steelhead near the state ferry dock since she was spotted there in January.
She makes enough vocalization for scientists to identify which pod she comes from, but she is quieter than other orcas because she has no one with whom to communicate.


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