Grieving orca highlights plight of endangered whales

Mourning orca mother is still carrying her dead calf's body off the coast of Victoria

Mourning orca mother is still carrying her dead calf's body off the coast of Victoria

The orca whale whose calf died just minutes after it was born is still carrying the body through the waters of the Pacific Northwest, 10 days after her grief ricocheted around the world.

While still sad, this is good news for experts who were anxious that the mother whale, also known as J-35, would tire from her tour of grief, now going on its ninth day, and fall behind her pod. The new orca died soon after being born. "It kept sinking, and the mother would raise it to the surface", said Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, Washington State.

Jenny Atkinson, the museum's executive director, says the orca was still carrying her dead calf Monday afternoon.

The killer whale delivered her baby on Tuesday last week.

She has since carried the corpse with a flipper, in her mouth or pushed it with her head.

"I am relieved we see her, that she is healthy and swimming strongly, and that she is with her family", said Taylor Shedd of the Soundwatch whale monitoring program run by the Whale Museum.

Tahlequah's behavior sends a powerful message, says Balcomb, who points out that this particular family of killer whales is in a dire situation due to dwindling food sources.

Tahlequah, also known as J-35, is part of an endangered pod of southern resident killer whales.

This endangered population of killer whales hasn't seen a successful pregnancy in three years, with "approximately 75 percent of newborns in the recent two decades", since the group has been designated as endangered, failing to survive, explains the Center for Whale Research. "Unfortunately, Chinook salmon are also endangered". Another member of her pod, designated as J50, seems to be starving to death, according to The Seattle Times. Their plan is to try and retrieve the body to find out why the baby orca died so abruptly.

"Ceremonies can go on for days to honor and mourn the loss of a loved one", she said.

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