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Orcas may all look alike, but each pod is unique, which is why scientists are so worried about the endangered J-pod off the coast of Pacific Northwest.

You may remember this pod from the recent news stories about J35, also known as Tahlequah.

She's the killer whale who carried her deceased calf on her back for weeks, mourning her loss.

Now the pod has likely suffered another loss, with 4-year-old J50 (aka Scarlet) being presumed dead by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Certainly she is dead by now," NOAA representative Michael Milstein told NBC affiliate KING-TV.

"J50 survived longer than any other whale we've seen in that condition, but unfortunately that window has passed."

NOAA Fisheries West Coast

According to KING-TV, Scarlet hadn't been seen since September 7, and had been in declining condition throughout the media frenzy pointed at Tahlequah and her calf.

NOAA reported that they were tracking her fervently as her condition worsened and she became lethargic and uninterested in feeding. Determined not to lose another member of these endangered southern resident orcas, and a breeding female to boot, people intervened.

According to Time magazine, Scarlet had a bad case of parasitic worms. In an effort to nurse her back to health, she was shot with a dart to deliver antibiotics. Live salmon were also deposited in her path to make feeding easier for her.

But, according to KING-TV, Scarlet also had an illness known as "peanut head."

NOAA Fisheries West Coast

It's so named because suffering orcas lose a lot of fat behind their heads, giving them a peanut shape. Milstein told KING-TV that while Scarlet fought longer than any other diagnosed whale had, ultimately that condition is a death sentence for orcas.

Her death is a huge blow to the pod, which already so recently experienced loss. Every member of the J-pod is crucial, because there are now only 74 left and even less breeding females, according to Time.

And their birth rate is already dangerously low. According to the Center for Whale Research, 75 percent of the pod's babies have died in the last 20 years.

In the last three years, no pregnancies were successful.

NOAA Fisheries West Coast

If female members of the group keep dying and birth rates continue to stay at zero, the pod could effectively become extinct — even as its remaining members live. And more whales are under observation for their health.

During her weeks-long mourning period, scientists worried that Tahlequah, who wasn't eating, was expending too much energy and would herself become unhealthy. And Time reported that Scarlet's mom J16 is also a concern because her health has declined over the past few weeks.

Hopefully the continued media attention on the J-pod's plight will get the public and political attention needed to further protect this endangered pod. It's too late to save Tahlequah's baby and Scarlet, but it doesn't have to be too late for the other 74 whales.

Scarlet's loss is a big one, but it doesn't have to be for nothing.


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