Lifestyle Pets Grieving Mother Orca Still Carrying Her Dead Calf as Researchers Begin to Fear for Her Health J35 was first seen carrying her baby after its death on July 24, in what scientists call a mourning ritual By Kate Hogan Kate Hogan Instagram Twitter Kate Hogan is Director of Digital Specials and Features at PEOPLE. In her 14 years at the brand, she has covered everything from pets and babies to style and Sexiest Man Alive, interviewing celebrities including Céline Dion, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Chris Evans. Currently, she oversees the creation of photo galleries that complement breaking news and major PEOPLE moments like The Beautiful Issue and 100 Reasons to Love America. She has offered expert celebrity commentary on Good Morning America and Access Hollywood. Before joining PEOPLE in 2008, Kate was an editorial assistant at Morris Visitor Publications. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication and resides outside of Chicago with her husband and three kids. People Editorial Guidelines Published on August 9, 2018 02:40 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Michael Weiss/Center for Whale Research It’s been more than two weeks since a mother orca was first spotted carrying her dead calf off the coast of Seattle, and she shows no signs of stopping in what scientists call an “unprecedented” period of mourning. On Thursday, researchers with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service said the grieving mother, her calf and their pod were spotted in Canadian waters around 1:30 p.m. PT on Wednesday. “We’re obviously concerned, and monitoring the situation,” Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist at NOAA, said during a status call with the media. “We’ve seen this sort of situation before, unfortunately.” According to Hanson and his fellow experts, the top concern right now is the mother’s desire to forage and feed. The longer she goes without doing either, the greater the chance she’ll lose her foraging abilities. Dawn Noren, a research biologist at NOAA, said that it’s possible the orca — named J35 — has podmates who’ve been foraging for her and giving her food. The fact that her body was likely prepped for lactation, too, means she has extra lipids in her blubber that will sustain her for a while. SeaWorld Orca Gives Birth to the Park’s Last Killer Whale Baby “A female killer whale … could probably fast for about four weeks before it gets into a detrimental state,” Noren said. However, the energy the mother is expending to push the calf is a concern as time goes on. “If this goes further, we might have an issue with her condition,” she added. The calf died not long after its birth on July 24. As its body fell into the water, the mother hauled it to the surface and began carrying it in on her nose what some scientists call a mourning ritual. One week later, members of her pod were seen taking turns holding the calf. Much of the observation of J35 is due to the fact that another of her podmates, J50, is ailing, and researchers are trying to intervene with that whale’s medical care. However, human intervention with J35 and her calf is off the table for now. “Obviously the connection [the pod] has formed with this calf is substantial and is something that we do have to take into account — what or how that might impact the whale from her behavioral state,” Hanson said. Killer whale research scientist Sheila Thornton said removing the calf would be a “very, very difficult decision” that it would come down to the health of the mother. “The connections between these animals are very strong, and to remove one from her familial group would have serious repercussions,” she explained. “I think there are many species who do undertake this sort of behavior. They are very intelligent animals, and the loss of this animal is quite profound.” Granny the 100-Year-Old Wild Orca Is an Example of the Life SeaWorld Whales Are Missing For now, researchers and veterinarians working to treat J50 will continue to monitor J35, looking closely at her for skin lesions, any changes in the way she swims or surfaces or major changes in her breath, which could indicate that she is metabolizing lipids. Thornton added that the calf is still “surprisingly intact.” The orca’s plight represents a larger problem: The Southern Resident killer whale population, to which J35 belongs, has not had a successful birth in years. In about 20 years, only 25 percent of the population’s newborns have survived.