For the past seven days, the world has kept an eye on an unusual and deeply sad scene unravelling just off the coast of Victoria.
A mother orca, whose newborn calf died a short time after being born, has been carrying its body around with her for over seven days now.
J35, the momma whale, gave birth to her baby on Tuesday, July 24th off the shore of Clover Point in Victoria, and at first all was well. But about half an hour later, the baby Southern Resident killer whale died of unknown causes.
According to a release from the Center for Whale Research, the calf’s body kept sinking underwater, and the mother kept retrieving it, and carrying it on her forehead.
A report from The Seattle Times indicates that J35 (nicknamed Tahlequah) has repeatedly ventured deep underwater to retrieve her young one’s body, affecting her own health and making her lag behind the rest of the J pod.
A dying species
Tahlequah was last spotted carrying her baby on Monday, July 30th – seven days after its death – making it one of the longest recorded periods of time during which a mother killer whale has transported her deceased offspring.
“I am so terrified for her well-being,” Deborah Giles, research scientist for University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca, told the Seattle Times. “She is a 20-year-old breeding-age female and we need her.”
According to the Centre for Whale Research, the population of Southern Resident Killer Whales that travels off the coast of Vancouver Island is on the brink of extinction, as all of their pregnancies in the past three years have “failed to produce viable offspring”.
One of the main reasons is the dwindling number of Chinook salmon – the prey of choice for the orcas. Ship traffic and toxins in the ocean have also been mentioned as possible reasons for the species’ being endangered.