Grieving Orca Mother Carries Her Dead Calf for Four Days Near Vancouver Island

The mother whale, named J35, was carrying the calf on her forehead, researchers said.
Photograph: Michael Weiss/Hysazu Photography

A grieving mother orca near Vancouver Island has been carrying her dead calf for four days, after refusing to leave her baby behind when the rest of her pod left.

The mother killer whale, named J35 by researchers, gave birth Tuesday in what was initially a hopeful moment. Mother and female calf were seen swimming together that morning near Victoria, British Columbia, according to the Washington state-based Center for Whale Research.

Within hours, though, the calf had died and J35’s pod had moved out of the area.

“The baby’s carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother, who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas,” said the Center for Whale Research in a statement. “The mother continued supporting and pushing the dead baby whale throughout the day until at least sunset.”

J35 was still holding up her calf as of Friday morning, Lisa Moorby, a Center for Whale Research spokesperson, said. Orcas and dolphins have been known to swim their dead calves for as long as a week.

The calf’s death highlights the larger tragedy facing orcas and the ecosystem they rely on in the Salish Sea, a waterway stretching from south of Seattle to north of Vancouver.

The Center for Whale Research, which monitors the whale population for the American and Canadian governments, reports that three years have passed since an orca residing in the area has birthed a surviving calf. The survival rate in the past two decades has been 75%. Only 75 killer whales in the endangered group, known as southern resident orcas, remain.

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SOURCE: The Guardian, Levi Pulkkinen