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

Arturo Kim
August 13, 2018

The Center for Whale Research said the killer whale, known as J35, was spotted off the western coast of San Juan Island, Wash., without her baby while she chased a school of salmon with her podmates for about a kilometre.

Tahlequah captured nationwide attention after being spotted carrying her dead calf, which died about a half hour after being born on July 24, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

The mother finally abandoned the carcass as it began to decompose.

The center said the whale appeared to be in good condition and "her behavior is remarkably frisky".

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. Typically, Atkinson said, researchers have seen mothers carry stillborn calves for "a day or so".

"The baby's carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother, who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas", the CWR said in a statement at the time.

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Image: The calf died shortly after it was born.

J35 (Talequah) swimming with her pod-mates after ending her "tour of grief" August 11, 2018.

Researchers may not get the chance to perform a necropsy. "And on Thursday she was still seen pushing her baby to the water's surface".

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. "What exactly she's feeling we'll never know".

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.

Researchers with the Canadian and USA governments and other organizations tracked her all the while, the Seattle Times wrote. They must learn to swim right away, Balcomb said, and rely on their mothers for food for several years - first through nursing, then through providing fish.

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