Orca's 'tour of grief' over after carrying dead calf for weeks

13 August, 2018, 08:41 | Author: Kara Nash
  • Grieving killer whale mother finally lets go of the dead calf she had been carrying for more than 2 weeks

The Center for Whale Research said the killer whale, known as J35, was spotted off the western coast of San Juan Island, Wash., without her baby while she chased a school of salmon with her podmates for about a kilometre.

According to a report from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Tahlequah was spotted pushing around her dead calf in July 24.

"Her tour of grief is now over and her behaviour is remarkably frisky", explain scientists from the Centre for Whale Research, who monitor and study an endangered orca population called the Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) in the Pacific Northwest.

Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb said it's "unprecedented" for an orca to have gone for so long.

The adult - Tahlequah, or J35 as the whale has come to be known by researchers - and corpse were last seen definitively Thursday afternoon, 17 days after the baby's birth.

Another struggling female in the same pod - J50, also known as Scarlet - was shot with antibiotics to fight an infection, since scientists worry that she has been losing a frightening amount of weight.

"I am sobbing. I can't believe she is still carrying her calf around", Giles told the Seattle Times.

Exacerbating the problem is that orcas do not have babies often or in large numbers, and when they do, it is a long process.

"She is alive and well and at least over that part of her grief".

Photos and video showing Tahlequah keeping the baby whale's body afloat soon after it died quickly went viral, especially after each passing day.

There hasn't been a successful birth among the southern resident killer whales in three years.

Aside from the emotional impact, this behaviour can have physical consequences too, but new telephoto images taken by the Centre for Whale Research reveal Tahlequah appears to be in good physical condition, with no evidence of 'peanut head' skull deformations incurred by the relentless pushing and not enough food.

In the past two decades, 75 per cent of newborn calves have died, according to the CWR, which attributes the low reproduction rate to declining numbers of Chinook salmon, the staple diet of the killer whales.

It's believed her calf's body sunk to the bottom of the strait, meaning researchers may not get a chance to examine it for an autopsy.

Both Canada and the United States list the Southern Resident killer whale as endangered. "Orcas. are charismatic megafauna", she said.


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