Grieving orca mother releases dead calf after 17 days

An orca mother that had been carrying her calf's carcass for 17 days and more than 1,000 miles was spotted by whale researchers without the calf for the first time since its death on Saturday. Photo by Ken Balcomb/Center for Whale Research

Aug. 13 (UPI) — A grieving orca mother dropped the carcass of her newborn calf after carrying it for 17 consecutive days.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research confirmed the orca mother, known as J35 or Tahlequah, was spotted without the dead calf for the first time in more than two weeks while chasing a school of salmon with the rest of her pod in the Haro Strait between the United States and Canada on Saturday.

“Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky,” Balcomb said.

Whale-watchers near Vancouver also reported seeing the orca without her calf up to two days earlier.

“The carcass has probably sunk to the bottom of these inland marine waters of the Salish Sea, and researchers may not get a chance to examine it for necropsy,” Balcomb said.

Tahlequah gave birth to the calf on July 24 and it lived for about half an hour before dying.

She used her head, fin and mouth to carry the dead calf for more than 1,000 miles and would regularly dive deep below the ocean’s surface to retrieve the carcass if it escaped her grasp.

Tahlequah’s behavior caused her to fall behind her pod and left whale researchers concerned for her well-being as a female member of an endangered family of 75 southern-resident orca whales.

Telephoto images from the scene on Saturday indicated she was in good physical condition after the journey and showed no indication of a loss of fat behind the head — known as “peanut head” — due to lack of food.


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