The Puget Sound orca whales were listed as endangered in 2005

By Ashley Boucher
July 28, 2020 12:03 AM
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Tahlequah, the Orca
Ken Balcomb/youtube

The Puget Sound orca whale who captured hearts in 2018 after carrying her dead calf for several days and hundreds of miles is pregnant again.

Tahlequah, also known as J-35, gave birth two years ago — which at the time, was the first baby orca for her pod in three years — but the calf died after only 30 minutes, the Seattle Times reported.

The grieving mother orca continued to carry the dead calf with her for 17 days, covering more than 1,000 miles.

Tahlequah is part of the Southern Resident whales that live in the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States — a group of orcas that were listed as endangered in 2005. The orcas make up three different pods, which researchers have dubbed J, K and L.

While pregnancies — and unsuccessful ones — among the Southern Resident orcas are not necessarily uncommon, Tahlequah's is notable because of her heartbreaking journey with her calf.

John Durban and Holly Fearnbach, scientists with the Southall Environmental Associates and SR3, respectively, discovered that Tahlequah is pregnant once again using drone imaging, the Seattle Times reported.

An image of Tahlequah from this month compared to one in September of last year shows her middle notably enlarged. The gestation period for orca whales is 15 to 18 months.

Tahlequah's second pregnancy is not guaranteed — about a third of the pregnancies among the Southern Residents don't make it, according to a study out of the University of Washington.

"Lack of prey, increased toxins and vessel disturbance have been listed as potential causes of the whale’s decline," the study, published in 2017, said. The orcas main food source is Chinook salmon, which are also endangered.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, climate change and pollution are also large threats to the marine animals.

Last May, another whale gave birth among the Southern Residents population, which the Center for Whale Research called a "very welcome addition" due to the struggling population.