'It's hard to watch': Killer whale mother still grieving in unprecedented display

Christopher Davidson
August 10, 2018

"I certainly think the duration of carrying the calf is unprecedented", said Sheila Thornton, DFO's lead killer whale research scientist.

An endangered orca is not letting go of her newborn calf, whose body she has been pushing through the water for more than two weeks. It's unclear if the whale has been eating, and scientists told the outlet her vast swim could very well be depleting her energy reserves.

She has been carrying the calf with her for 16 straight days.

Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research said the southern resident orca J35 was spotted Thursday in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the south shore of Vancouver Island.

"I am sobbing. I can't believe she is still carrying her calf around", Deborah Giles, a research scientist and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca, told the Seattle Times.

"Removing the calf would be a very, very hard decision, and obviously we would have to take many factors into consideration, so that's now not on the table", she said.

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"As there are only approximately 76 southern resident killer whales left, we must take into consideration whether our actions risk harming either J-50 or her pod", adds the DFO statement. "I am gravely concerned for the health and mental wellbeing of J35".

Another female in the group, a 3½-year-old whale named J50, has also been in peril, and government officials are preparing an emergency plan to save her from starving to death. They hope to do so before inclement weather rolls in. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee convened a task force earlier this year to address the animals' dwindling populations, and the group met this week for the first time since Tahlequah's journey began.

They face nutritional stress over a lack of their preferred food source, Chinook salmon, as well as threats from toxic contamination and vessel noise and disturbances that disrupt their ability to communicate and forage.

"This is a novel undertaking", Hanson said.

The researcher said the event may compel Inslee to use some of his political capital to help the orcas sooner than expected.

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