Orca J35, also known as Tahlequah, exhales as she continues to carry her dead calf — a week after giving birth — while she swims in Swanson’s Channel, B.C., in August 2018. Photo: Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times

By Lynda V. Mapes
8 August 2018

(The Seattle Times) – Tahlequah, the mother orca also known as J35, was spotted Wednesday afternoon, still carrying her dead infant calf for the 16th straight day.

“I am absolutely shocked and heartbroken,’’ said Deborah Giles, research scientist for University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca.

“I am sobbing. I can’t believe she is still carrying her calf around,” Giles said, adding, “I am gravely concerned for the health and mental well being of J35.

“Even if her family is foraging for and sharing fish with her, J35 cannot be getting the … nutrition she needs to regain any body-mass loss that would have naturally occurred during the gestation of her fetus and also additional loss of nutrition during these weeks of mourning.” […]

The plight of the southern residents, in decline for years, has never been so stark. Down to just 75 animals, every calf matters. The plight of Tahlequah carrying her dead baby for hundreds of miles, refusing to let it go, has struck the hearts of people around the world.

“It’s almost like a parable, the damndest thing I ever saw,” said Jason Colby, a historian at the University of Victoria and author of a new book about killer whales and the capture era — which disproportionately targeted J pod.

While orcas and other animals, including dolphins and gorillas, are known to carry their dead, Tahlequah’s is an extraordinary display.

“This is absolutely unprecedented,” Colby said. To those such as Colby hoping for an urgent turnaround for the southern residents, Tahlequah’s witness to her loss, as she carries her dead calf day after day through the Salish Sea, is searing.

“As a dad I can only imagine her grief and everything she has gone through,” Colby said. “It seems like she is in a dangerous loop now that she can’t get herself out of and who knows how long she went without feeding before this.” [more]

‘I am sobbing’: Mother orca still carrying her dead calf — 16 days later

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