The tragic news of a mother orca whale mourning the death of her calf who died 30 minutes after its birth has led to an outpouring of support from animal lovers, and now the mother whale’s family, as well.
According CBC, members of the mother whale’s pod have been helping with the grieving creature’s mourning by taking turns balancing the baby killer whale’s carcass on their noses, as she’d been doing for days through the waters near San Juan Island, Washington.
“We do know her family is sharing the responsibility of caring for this calf, that she’s not always the one carrying it,” Jenny Atkinson, director of the Whale Museum on San Juan Island, told CBC’s As It Happens.
While still sad, this is good news for experts who were worried that the mother whale, also known as J-35, would tire from her tour of grief, now going on its ninth day, and fall behind her pod.
Atkinson also told CBC that this could be the orcas’ version of a human wake or funeral.
“Ceremonies can go on for days to honor and mourn the loss of a loved one,” she said. “I think that what you’re seeing is the depth of importance of this calf and the grief of the mother and the family.”
As PEOPLE reported earlier, the Center for Whale Research points out this heartbreaking moment represents a larger problem. The Southern Resident killer whale population, to which the mother and her pod belong, has not had a successful birth in years. In about 20 years, only 25 percent of the population’s newborns have survived.
Ken Balcomb, the founder of the Center for Whale Research, is still concerned for the mother whale and says the length of this mourning ritual is unprecedented in his 20 years of study, reports Q13 FOX.
“I’m concerned with potential perinatal issues that have killed other mothers,” Balcomb told the local FOX affiliate.
In an effort to keep tabs on the mother and her health, researchers will follow the and collect fecal samples for testing.