Orca whale mother's 'tour of grief' over after almost 3 weeks

Henrietta Strickland
August 13, 2018

The calf - which she'd been holding on her head - was gone.

"Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky".

"J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy", Balcomb wrote in an email. "Now we can confirm that she definitely has abandoned it".

The statement said the newborn's body has likely sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

The whales have been struggling because of a lack of salmon, and J35's calf died soon after it was born off Vancouver Island on July 24, researchers say.

The mother refused to let go for more than moments at a time, pushing the carcass along or holding its tail in her teeth in waters off the West Coast.

The adult - Tahlequah, or J35 as the whale has come to be known by researchers - and corpse were last seen definitively Thursday afternoon, 17 days after the baby's birth. "Telephoto digital images taken from shore show that this mother whale appears to be in good physical condition following her record-setting ordeal".

Both Canada and the USA list the Southern Resident killer whale as endangered. Whale experts say they have seen orcas mourn their offspring before, but J35 clung to her calf for an unusually long period of time.

Tahlequah is one of two orcas in the pod that scientists have been monitoring.

About 75 per cent of newborns have not survived for long after birth in the past 20 years and as a result the southern resident killer whale population has been classified as endangered.

Balcomb said he also saw J50 with her mother and brother on Saturday, along with NOAA researchers who were following her to collect prey remains and feces.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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