NOAA and the Center for Whale Research cite multiple factors threatening the killer whales, including a diminishing Chinook salmon population - which is their preferred fish - as well as increased pollution, water traffic, and increased noise - which stresses out the whales and interferes their ability to reproduce.
The 3 ½-year-old killer whale this past week was feared to have only days to live.
Biologists also are standing by with a dart loaded with a long-acting antibiotic, if she comes in range.
Scientists on both sides of the border say the southern resident killer whale, identified as J-50, may only have days to live and veterinarians are prepared to administer experimental antibiotics in American waters.
"We are hopeful that there is still a chance that we will be able to assist her with medical treatment to give her enough time to get nourishment and treat infections, if indeed that is causing her decline".
USA biologists are racing to find the underweight 3-year-old animal to administer antibiotics either through food or by injection, but she could be dead or in Canada.
American officials said the whale appeared lethargic and lost almost 20 per cent of its body mass.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Q13 News the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada spotted the orca carrying the calf Wednesday near the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. The feeding would initially consist of only a few fish, which would not be medicated.
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Rowles said injections of antibiotics or sedatives have been given to other free-swimming whales or dolphins that were injured or entangled but it hasn't been done for free-swimming whales in this area.
Whale experts have been increasingly anxious about J50 after a researcher last month noticed an odour on the orca's breath, a smell detected on other orcas that later died.
The whales were too far away too late in the day to attempt a health assessment Wednesday afternoon, Milstein said.
The efforts come as a task force called by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee met Tuesday to come up with solutions to help the whales. A final report is due in November.
An endangered orca was spotted still clinging to her dead calf more than two weeks after her newborn died. The plight of Tahlequah carrying her dead baby for hundreds of miles, refusing to let it go, has struck the hearts of people around the world.
The whales prefer Chinook salmon but many of those runs are endangered or threatened.
Others are pushing to tear down four dams on the lower Snake River.
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