Published: Mon, August 13, 2018
Medical | By

Orca seen grieving, carrying dead calf is now feeding, frolicking with pod

Orca seen grieving, carrying dead calf is now feeding, frolicking with pod

The whale then "vigorously chased a school of salmon with her pod-mates in Haro Strait" off Canada's Vancouver Island, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) said.

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

The center said she had been seen briefly two days before without the calf, but the sighting Saturday was confirmation that her "tour of grief" was at an end.

An audio recording from earlier this month apparently featured the mother's "mournful and prominent" calls, Q13 Fox reported.

An endangered female orca is no longer carrying her dead calf around the Pacific Ocean, ending her almost three-week-long "tour of grief".

"The ordeal of J35 carrying her dead calf for at least seventeen days and [1600km] is now over, thank goodness", researcher Ken Balcomb said on Twitter.

Researchers said J35 towed the calf for almost 1,000 miles over a span of 17 days.

Killer whales are long-lived - one Seattle-area orca known as Granny is believed to have lived 106 years before her death in 2016 - but the remaining southern resident orcas must start reproducing again before they grow too old to calve.

Researchers say they are immensely relieved to see J35 returning to typical behaviour
Researchers say they are immensely relieved to see J35 returning to typical behaviour Credit Center for Whale Research

In circumstances like this, orcas are known to nudge along perished newborns for up to a week, preventing them from sinking by repeatedly propping them up on their foreheads in a desperate bid to keep them with the pod.

Sadly, Tahlequah and her daughter enjoyed less than an hour swimming together after the calf was born, before the infant died of an unknown cause. She is no longer carrying her baby, and she looks healthy. A scientist cried thinking of her. Tahlequah inspired politicians and essayists - and a sense of interspecies kinship in some mothers who had also lost children.

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

Researchers had hoped to perform a necropsy on J35's dead calf but that is likely not possible now. "Now we can confirm that she definitely has abandoned it".

The lack of Chinook salmon, threats from toxic contamination and disturbance from vessels in the water - which disrupts the whales' ability to communicate and forage - have all threatened the animals' ability to thrive in recent times.

Howard Garrett, co-founder and board president of Orca Network, said he was relieved to hear the news.

Scientists have also moved to save J-50, another whale in the endangered pod.


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