Orca whale mother's 'tour of grief' over after almost 3 weeks

Charlene Craig
August 13, 2018

A Southern Resident killer whale whose calf died shortly after birth last month was finally seen swimming without the carcass 17 days later. according to scientists, who say her "tour of grief" is over.

J35, also known as Tahlequah, was seen Saturday off San Juan Island without the calf, the Center for Whale Research said in a web post.

The whales have been struggling because of a lack of salmon, and J35′s calf died soon after birth.

Greenpeace USA Field Organizing Manager Ben Smith said in a statement: "Tahlequah united millions of people worldwide in heartbreak and love as she carried her dead calf for 1,000 miles".

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This continued for 17 days, with Tahlequah pushing the calf along in waters near Canada's Vancouver Island.

"Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky", read an update on the research center's website.

Dr. Martin Haulena, the chief veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium, said a one- or two-day "mourning period" is common in many cetacean species such as whales and dolphins, but the 17-day-long journey was distinctly odd.

While we can be relieved that J35 has finally relinquished her dead calf and is moving on with more normal orca behaviour, the sad reality is that some 75 percent of newborns in the SRKW population in the past two decades have failed to thrive - and Tahlequah's calf, had she survived, would have been the first living offspring in three years. It couldn't have been easy for her. Tahlequah's pod travels dozens of miles in a day, Chiu wrote, and she pushed her baby's hundreds of pounds every inch of the way.

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Orcas, also called killer whales, are highly social, and this pod was spotted Friday afternoon near Vancouver, British Columbia. She was forever picking up the body as it sank, hoisting it out of the water to take a breath, and repeating. "Now we can confirm that she definitely has abandoned it".

The CWR added that the baby's carcass has probably sunk to the bottom of the Salish Sea, meaning that researchers may not get a chance to examine it.

Researchers with the Canadian and USA governments and other organizations tracked her all the while, the Seattle Times wrote.

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