Published: Mon, August 13, 2018
Worldwide | By Stella Potter

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

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

A mother orca who was carrying the body of her dead offspring 17 days has finally let the calf go.

Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research, spotted orca J35 with her pod off San Juan Island on Saturday, and said the ordeal of carrying her dead calf is over.

The whale was seen "vigourously chasing" salmon with her pod in the Haro Strait off the coast of Victoria on Saturday afternoon.

The act itself was not unprecedented, but researchers said it was rare to see a mother carry her dead for so long.

Writing on its website, the Center for Whale Research said Tahlequah's "tour of grief" was now over and that her behaviour was now "remarkably frisky".

In this file photo taken Tuesday, July 24, 2018, provided by the Center for Whale Research, a baby orca whale is being pushed by her mother. She was forever picking up the body as it sank, hoisting it out of the water to take a breath, and repeating.


Researchers may not get the chance to perform a necropsy. When calves are stillborn or die shortly after birth, Haulena said the mothers instinctively drive the calf upward, and may continue to do so for 48 hours. But J35's mourning, which lasted at least 17 days, marks the longest such display ever documented among southern resident killer whales.

Tahlequah is one of two orcas in the pod that scientists have been monitoring. "Now we can confirm that she definitely has abandoned it".

The Centre for Whale Research said the carcass had "probably sunk to the bottom of these inland marine waters of the Salish Sea" and it would be hard for researchers to locate it for necropsy.

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.

The chief culprit, researchers say, is there isn't enough salmon in the water to keep the orca population fit and healthy. The effort of pushing her calf - for about 1,000 miles by now - is probably making her weak and keeping her from finding enough food.

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