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Scientists collect breath samples of an orca using a long pole with petri dishes attached at the end. Photo: Pete Schroeder
Scientists collect breath samples of an orca using a long pole with petri dishes attached at the end. Photo: Pete Schroeder

The Orca Docs: When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?

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This week we present “The Orca Docs,” a two-part series from our senior writer Christopher Dunagan. The series focuses on some of the issues related to proposed medical intervention for Puget Sound’s endangered orcas.

The death of a young female orca in September has sparked a discussion of how and whether scientists should step in with medical care for distressed animals in the wild. Medical intervention has become routine for some endangered mammals, but scientists say Puget Sound’s resident orcas present a series of unique challenges and ethical questions. In part one of our series we look at how scientists are preparing to treat endangered southern resident orcas that face starvation and risks of disease. Part two examines how this has worked for other species such as mountain gorillas and whether those efforts might inspire local actions.

Part one: When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?

Part two: Wildlife rescues may inform orca strategies