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Researcher who tracks whales says ailing orca likely gone

SEATTLE — Teams are searching for an ailing, critically endangered orca that a scientist who tracks the whale population in the Pacific Northwest says is likely dead.

Experts have been preparing last-ditch efforts to save the nearly 4-year-old, emaciated whale that included the possibility of capturing and treating her.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said Thursday he believes the whale known as J50 “is gone.”

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said boats and planes in the U.S. and Canada are looking but that Balcomb usually makes such calls on missing whales because he keeps the population data.

He said J50 has not been seen in recent days with her family. J50 went missing earlier this month but later turned up.

The loss of J50 would bring the number of southern resident killer whales to just 74 animals.