After an orca mom carrying her deceased calf for more than 15 days made headlines, another orca whale is worrying the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A 3½-year-old orca known as J50 and Scarlet has been lagging a half-mile behind her family at times in Pacific Northwest waters and appears "very thin," NOAA reports. Worried about her survival, the NOAA Fisheries and its partners announced Tuesday that plans are underway to possibly capture J50 in an effort to save her life.
A team has already mobilized to capture J50 if she falls away from her family or becomes stranded on a beach. If she is captured, the team plans to diagnose what's ailing her and hopefully return her to the wild.
Critics have launched an online petition to stop the intervention, worried the young orca could die in captivity away from her family. The petition had more than 690 signatures as of Thursday morning.
Bob McLaughlin, who was involved in the capture of an orca who frequently swam beside ferry boats more than a decade ago, said human intervention is the best option for the future of the endangered Southern Resident orcas, which has diminished to just 75 whales with only a dozen reproducing.
"If there is something with J50 that we identify that is a pathogen that could go through the southern residence, this could be really a good thing," McLaughlin said. "J50 has the chance to either save the Southern Residents or to kill them. If we don't find out what's going on with her, that might come back to bite us in the butt."
Federal authorities are preparing the same equipment used in the orca capture for a potential J50 rescue.
Alison Morrow of KING-TV contributed to this story. Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets