Grieving Orca Finally Drops Dead Calf After 17 Days: 'She Looks Vigorous and Healthy'
The center confirmed the news in an update posted online, Saturday.
“This afternoon at 1407 Pacific Daylight Time, J35 vigorously chased a school of salmon with her pod-mates in mid-Haro Strait in front of the Center for Whale Research for a half mile — no longer carrying the deceased baby that she had carried for at least seventeen days and 1,000 miles,” the update said. “Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky.”
The whale — known also as Tahlequah — is in “good physical condition,” according to the center, which was able to capture telephoto digital images of the orca from the shore.
“There had been reports from brief sightings by whale-watchers two days ago that J35 (Tahlequah) was not pushing the calf carcass in Georgia Strait near Vancouver, BC; and, now we can confirm that she definitely has abandoned it,” the update said.
The center noted that the calf’s body most likely sunk in the Salish sea’s inland waters.
The orca’s return to chasing salmon is welcome news. While the orca’s tribute was ongoing, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service worried that she would lose her foraging abilities.
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“We’re obviously concerned, and monitoring the situation,” the NOAA’s Brad Hanson told the media at the time. “We’ve seen this sort of situation before, unfortunately.”
The 400-pound calf died a half hour after its birth on July 24, The Washington Post reported. The mother then kept the calf adrift for 17 days on her head — continually picking it up to prevent it from sinking — as she swam between Vancouver and San Juan Island.
“You cannot interpret it any other way,” Deborah Giles, a University of Washington biologist, explained to the Post. “This is an animal that is grieving for its dead baby, and she doesn’t want to let it go. She’s not ready.”
The southern resident killer whale population has not had a successful birth in years. In the past two decades, only 25 percent of the population’s newborns have survived, according to CNN. Partly to blame are human actions like harvesting.
The Seattle Times noted that another orca, called J50, is malnourished. “The reason J35 lost her baby and the others are losing their babies is there is not enough salmon,” Balcomb said, according to the outlet. “Hopefully we will do something about that.”