Grieving Orca Whale Releases Dead Calf After More Than Two Weeks

Grieving Orca Whale Releases Dead Calf After More Than Two Weeks

An endangered orca's "tour of grief" is over after she spent almost three weeks towing her dead calf around the Pacific Ocean, researchers said Sunday.

She's also known as Tahlequah, a name she was given as part of the adopt a whale program at The Whale Museum on Washington's San Juan Island.

She carried her deceased baby off the coast of Vancouver Island from July 24th until at least August 9th, when she may have been spotted by whale watchers who told CWR researchers that J35 was not pushing her calf's corpse.

Tahlequah, as the mother has come to be called, gave birth on July 25 in what should have been a happy milestone for her long-suffering clan.

CWR founder Ken Balcomb said he was immensely relieved to see J35 returning to typical behaviour.

But she's finally been able to move on from her grief, as we learned from an update from the Center for Whale Research over the weekend.

"Her tour of grief is now over and her behaviour is remarkably frisky".

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In the hours, then days after the death, Tahlequah was spotted trying to keep her baby's head above the water's surface, reluctant to leave the body behind.

Researchers had hoped to perform a necropsy on J35's dead calf but that is likely not possible now. "This kind of behavior is like a period of mourning and has been seen before".

Tahlequah is one of two orcas in the pod that scientists have been monitoring. "What exactly she's feeling we'll never know".

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.

The calf is believed to have died the same day.

Researchers were concerned that the orca's "deep grieving process", pushing the carcass for 1,000 miles off Washington state, was distracting it from foraging and feeding.

Regrettably, researchers say about 75% of newborns in the recent two decades following designation of the Southern Resident killer whale population as "endangered" have not survived, and 100% of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce viable offspring.

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