"So we basically have to get within five metres of the whale", Hanson said.
According the researchers, the orca and her pod are going through "a deep grieving process".
During the first three days of her calf's death, the orca swam with her pod but carried along her baby's almost 400 pound body.
This is the latest troubling sign for a population already at its lowest in more than three decades. Females reach sexual maturity in their teens, and their fertility starts to wane in their 30s or 40s, yet they have been known to live more than a century, spending their postreproductive years helping their daughters and granddaughters raise babies. The animals will cling onto the lifeless bodies of their offspring for days and will try to keep them safe from predators.
Killer whales carry their dead calves for a week or so.
"Obviously the connection [the pod] has formed with this calf is substantial and is something that we do have to take into account - what or how that might impact the whale from her behavioral state", Hanson said.
"We're obviously concerned, and monitoring the situation", Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist at NOAA, said during a status call with the media.
Dolphins she has studied have an extra-rich layer of blubber at pregnancy, to prepare for the tremendous energetic cost of lactation. "The other concern is that she might be food-limited".
According to Dr Giles, the other members of the family knew J35 was pregnant due to their sonar, which the animals also use to communicate with one another. "Great work by the teams on the water!"
Foggy conditions and ocean swells have prevented the teams from collecting breath and fecal samples, which requires getting within five metres of the young orca while matching her pace.
The plan on Thursday was to provide emergency assistance for the whale, with a visual medical assessment, as well as a shot of broad-spectrum antibiotics.
The Lummi Nation is also standing by to provide live chinook salmon for the young whale. If things go well, the whale may then be given live salmon dosed with medication.
The initial plan was to take the fish from seiners or reef netters, a maneuver the Lummi practiced Monday with success.
In light of this, top veterinarians and whale experts are desperately working to come up with a way to restore this gentle giant's health as soon as possible. The blow of a young whale is only about a foot and a half high, so winds must be calm and the whales close in order to collect a sample.
Any intervention with the pod will be contingent on the behavior of the whales, as well as the weather and swell conditions. However, if J50 is off by herself, quietly resting or foraging, that could present an opportunity.
Orca whales also do not have babies often or in large numbers, and when they do, it is a long process. There hasn't been a successful birth since 2015.
Many have expressed surprise at just how powerfully watching Tahlequah has affected them.
"The connections between these animals are very strong, and to remove one from her familial group would have serious repercussions", she explained. She was quite adept as moving around.
"Even if her family is foraging for and sharing fish with her, J35 can not be getting the. nutrition she needs to regain any body-mass loss that would have naturally occurred during the gestation of her fetus and also additional loss of nutrition during these weeks of mourning", she said.
"Yet a lot of times in society that type of grief goes unrecognized", she said. That includes pets, a bond that continues after an animal's death, just as with the loss of a person.