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An emaciated and endangered killer whale that scientists feared could be dead has been spotted swimming in the waters off Vancouver Island.

Paul Cottrell of Fisheries and Oceans Canada says a federal research team saw J50 Tuesday afternoon near Port Renfrew, B.C., but conditions were so foggy that they couldn’t assess her condition.

The young female orca has sparked an international rescue effort by Canadian and American scientists who have developed a novel plan to feed her salmon medicated with antibiotics.

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J50 is one of only 75 Southern resident killer whales that swim the coastal waters between British Columbia to California.

As a female with reproductive potential, scientists say she could play a vital role in her species’ recovery if she survives.

While the salmon-feeding idea has not yet received approval from Canadian officials, Cottrell says Canada is prepared to give the green light to a plan to administer antibiotics by dart or with a pole-mounted syringe, once it receives an application from its American counterparts.

The first step before administering any antibiotics will be to assess J50’s condition, once she is located again in appropriate conditions.

“In terms of the licensing for the pole-mounted antibiotic injection or the darting mechanism ... the activity from scientists has been approved, but we still need the application from the individuals, the researchers, the experts who want to undertake this,” Cottrell 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.

“J50 was staying close to her mum and was keeping up well, moving at a casual speed and undertaking what we call logging behaviour which is a resting behaviour with slow transits and movements, and small changes direction so we can’t at this time say what specific direction the animals were going in,” Thornton said.

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She said weather conditions were improving, so they were hoping for another sighting in order to collect fecal and breath samples from J50.

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