Killer whale finally lets dead calf go

Saul Bowman
August 15, 2018

An endangered killer whale that drew worldwide attention as she carried her dead calf on her head for more than two weeks is finally back to feeding and frolicking with her pod, United States researchers say.

After nearly seventeen heart-wrenching days of carrying her dead calf around, J35 (nicknamed Tahlequah), the mother orca, was spotted traversing the waters of the Georgia Strait without her baby.

Yesterday, the mother, J35, was spotted vigorously chasing a school of salmon with her pod-mates in mid-Haro Strait in front of the centre.

Tahlequah captured nationwide attention after being spotted carrying her dead calf, which died about a half hour after being born on July 24, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

The heartbreaking story of an orca whale mother who has been carrying her deceased calfs body with her for more than 1,500 km has come to an end.

Paul Cottrell with Fisheries and Oceans Canada was audibly relieved to see J35 release the calf and return to her regular activities such as hunting.

"Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky".


Jenny Atkinson, executive director of the Whale Museum on San Juan Island, said that J35 and her pod were going through a "deep grieving process". "She carried this for 17 months before it was born", Atkinson said.

Balcomb said he also saw J50 with her mother and brother on Saturday, along with NOAA researchers who were following her to collect prey remains and feces.

"This is something new; we never really experienced anything like this".

The centre says the carcass likely sank to the bottom of the Salish Sea, and researchers may not get a chance to perform a necropsy.

Researchers had anxious J35, who was last spotted with her dead calf Wednesday, was not eating properly and was spending too much energy pushing the corpse.

The lack of Chinook salmon, threats from toxic contamination and disturbance from vessels in the water - which disrupts the whales' ability to communicate and forage - have all threatened the animals' ability to thrive in recent times. It couldn't have been easy for her. Tahlequah's pod travels dozens of miles in a day, Chiu wrote, and she pushed her baby's hundreds of pounds every inch of the way.

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