(OCEANS/ORCAS) A 20-year-old killer whale named Tahlequah recently made headlines after being spotted carrying the corpse of her dead calf for an unprecedented 17 days.
Last week, the grieving mother–known as J35 to scientists monitoring the critically endangered orca population in the Pacific Northwest–was seen swimming without the infant balanced on her head for the first time since July.
It’s not known whether the bereaved orca finally let the corpse go, or if the body simply began to decompose, but her extended mourning illustrates the dire threat currently facing her pod. Her calf was the first in three years to be born into the dwindling Southern Resident orca population, which currently consists of just 75 whales.
Read on to learn more about the fate of the Southern Resident population and calls for greater protection. — Global Animal
CNN, Darran Simon
It was a journey of love, driven by a mother’s loss, stretching across a thousand miles of ocean as the world watched and wondered.
An apparently grieving female orca whale who swam with the body of her dead calf for more than two weeks has stopped carrying the carcass, environmental officials said.
The adult — Tahlequah, or J35 as she is known by researchers — and corpse were last seen definitively last week, 17 days after the baby’s birth. The female calf died after a few hours. The mother, preventing her baby from sinking, had been nudging it toward the surface of the Pacific off the coast of Canada and the Northwestern United States.
Tahlequah was spotted Saturday chasing a school of salmon with her pod mates in the Haro Strait without the dead calf for a half-mile, the Washington-state based Center for Whale Research said. The carcass likely sunk to the bottom of the waters of the Salish Sea, according to the center.
“Her tour of grief is now over, and her behavior is remarkably frisky,” the center said in the blog.
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.”
Scientists are still worried about the health of a struggling sick female from the same pod. That whale — J50, also known as Scarlet — had been shot with antibiotics to fight an infection and had been losing a lot of weight.
The Southern Resident population the females belong to has about 75 members and has not had a successful birth in three years. Only 25% of the babies have survived in the last 20 years.
Greenpeace said the Southern Resident orca is an “important part of the culture and history of the Pacific Northwest,” and called for greater protection for them.
“Unfortunately, that population is malnourished and in dire need of food and protection,” said Smith, a Seattle resident. “That is why our elected officials and civic leaders have a moral responsibility to take action and ensure that the orca’s main food source, salmon, recovers and is not further depleted.”