Orca seen grieving, carrying dead calf is now feeding, frolicking with pod

Geneva Stokes
August 13, 2018

The calf was born on July 24 near Victoria, but died shortly after being given life.

The adult - Tahlequah, or J35 as she is known by researchers - and corpse were last seen definitively last week, 17 days after the baby's birth.

The act itself was not unprecedented, but researchers said it was rare to see a mother carry her dead for so long.

"Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky", Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb said.

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. Images of the mother clinging to the dead calf have struck an emotional chord across the world. She was forever picking up the body as it sank, hoisting it out of the water to take a breath, and repeating.

She has featured in countless stories, including a report from Kara Kostanich for United States network ABC, which broke hearts when it was broadcast on August 1.

Scientists have also moved to save J-50, another whale in the endangered pod.

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Meanwhile researchers have been tending to ailing orca J50, a 3½-year-old whale who has lost 20 percent of her body mass and developed a depression near the base of her skull.

"I am sobbing. I can't believe she is still carrying her calf around", Giles told the Seattle Times.

While scientists had previously held fears for Tahlequah's health due to not eating, Mr Balcomb confirmed she seemed physically stable.

Exacerbating the problem is that orcas do not have babies often or in large numbers, and when they do, it is a long process.

The whale then "vigorously chased a school of salmon with her pod-mates in Haro Strait" off Canada's Vancouver Island, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) said.

Still, the newborn's death has larger meaning in the southern resident killer whale population that is so endangered there are only 75 left, with no successful births in three years. The effort of pushing her calf - for about 1,000 miles by now - is probably making her weak and keeping her from finding enough food.

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