Published: Thu, August 09, 2018
Science | By

Grieving mother orca still swimming with her dead calf, 16 days later

Grieving mother orca still swimming with her dead calf, 16 days later

However, if the whale remains out of US waters, she is at least for now beyond help - Canada has yet to provide any clearance to assist the whale, but is working on it, said Paul Cottrell, marine mammal coordinator for the Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Pacific Region.

"We are hopeful that there is a chance that we may be able to assist her with medical treatment, that we may be able to get her nourishment and treat her", said Teri Rowles, director of the marine mammal health and stranding program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "It seems like she is in a risky loop now that she can't get herself out of and who knows how long she went without feeding before this'".

Killer whales belonging to J-pod have attracted worldwide attention since another member, mother J-35, recently carried her dead baby for days in what was described as a display of grief.

The first step, however, would be to assess the whale's health and try delivering medication in a more conventional way, by approaching J-50 by boat and using either a dart or pole to inject her.

However, if things go well, J50 might receive further treatment of salmon laced with medication. She is underweight and lethargic with periods of inactivity, and does not appear to be feeding.

The agency is not even sure if the whale would consume the prey at this point, Rowles said.

Whale experts have been increasingly anxious about J50 after a researcher last month noticed an odour on the orca's breath, a smell detected on other orcas that later died. To those such as Colby hoping for an urgent turnaround for the southern residents, Tahlequah's witness to her loss, as she carries her dead calf day after day through the Salish Sea, is searing.


Rowles said such imagery has shed more light on the whales' overall body condition and growth over time. That data has documented orcas that declined and then disappeared.

She said it became evident that "we needed to intervene to determine potentially what was the cause and whether there was anything we could do to assist her".

The 3 ½-year-old killer whale this past week was feared to have only days to live.

"Hopefully, they are doing well and foraging and doing what they need to do".

NOAA and the Center for Whale Research cite multiple factors threatening the killer whales, including a diminishing Chinook salmon population - which is their preferred fish - as well as increased pollution, water traffic, and increased noise - which stresses out the whales and interferes their ability to reproduce.

Springer was two years old when she was found in Puget Sound near Seattle, ailing and separated from her pod.

Like this: