Quantcast
Animals
Tahlequah or J35, has carried her dead calf for 17 days as of Thursday. Center for Whale Research

Orca Mother Still Carrying Her Dead Calf 17 Days Later

Tahlequah—a southern resident killer whale whose heartbreaking story has captured attention around the world—has been carrying her dead calf for more than two weeks now.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research told The Seattle Times that the mother orca has pushed the carcass for a 17th straight day for more than 1,000 miles as of Thursday.


But Balcomb said Tahlequah might drop the calf soon because its body is starting to deteriorate. A recent image shows that its intestine and blubber has been exposed.

The baby whale was born near Victoria, British Columbia on July 24 and was seen alive and swimming with its mother, referred by scientists as J35, and other members of its "J" pod. The newborn died half an hour after its birth.

It's not unusual for orcas to carry their dead offspring for about a day or so, but this is likely the longest period researchers have observed.

"I certainly think the length of the situation is unprecedented," Sheila Thornton, lead killer-whale scientist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada said to The Times. "There are many species who do undertake this sort of behavior if a young animal has failed to survive, they will carry the carcass, you can look at that as mourning behavior."

Deborah Giles, research scientist for University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca told The Times on Wednesday she is "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," Giles added.

Scientists have also raised flags about a 3-year-old orca called Scarlet, also known as J50, who is part of the same pod as Tahlequah.

"J50 appears lethargic at times with periods of activity, including feeding. Scientists observing her agree that she is in poor condition and may not survive," according to NOAA Fisheries.

Government officials and other experts are exploring options to aid Scarlet, ranging from no intervention to providing medical treatment, potentially delivered in a live Chinook salmon, their favored prey.

The stories of the ailing whales have highlighted the plight of the critically endangered species and have renewed efforts to save them. The current population of southern resident killer whales has dipped to only 75 individuals.

"The recent, tragic death of the orca calf is heartbreaking and we all feel the pain of the mother and her pod," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted last week. "Protecting and restoring the complex ecosystem these beautiful animals rely on will take a lot of work. There are no do-overs with the orcas. We must get this right."

Their decline has been attributed to pollution, underwater noise and disturbances from boat traffic, and lack of Chinook salmon. Recent deaths, particularly among calves, mothers and pregnant whales, appear to be driven by food scarcity, the Center for Whale Research says.

Members of Inslee's task force met Tuesday to discuss the emergency situation and how to improve the orcas' health and numbers. The task force will issue a comprehensive report and recommendations for recovering the species, with a full draft due by Oct. 1 and a final report the following month.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
Kodachrome25 / Getty Images

Roof-to-Garden: How to Irrigate with Rainwater

By Brian Barth

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day, a third for irrigation and other outdoor uses. Collecting the water flowing down your downspouts in rainstorms so you can use it to irrigate in dry periods is often touted as a simple way to cut back. But setting up a functional rainwater irrigation system—beyond the ubiquitous 55-gallon barrels under the downspout, which won't irrigate much more than a flower bed or two—is a fairly complicated DIY project.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
A family wears face masks as they walk through the smoke filled streets after the Thomas wildfire swept through Ventura, California on Dec. 6, 2017. MARK RALSTON / AFP / Getty Images

How to Protect Your Children From Wildfire Smoke

By Cecilia Sierra-Heredia

We're very careful about what our kids eat, but what about the air they breathe?

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Hero Images / Getty Images

Study: Children Have Better Nutrition When They Live Near Forests

Spending time in nature is known to boost mental and emotional health. Now, a new global study has found that children in 27 developing nations tend to have more diverse diets and better nutrition when they live near forests.

The paper, published Wednesday in Science Advances, provides evidence that forest conservation can be an important tool in promoting better nutrition in developing countries, rather than clear-cutting forests for more farmland.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Navy torpedo bomber spraying DDT just above the trees in Goldendale, WA in 1962. USDA Forest Service

Maternal DDT Exposure Linked to Increased Autism Risk

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry Thursday found that mothers exposed to the banned pesticide DDT were nearly one-third more likely to have children who developed autism, Environmental Health News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
GMO
Significant cupping of leaves from dicamba drift on non-Xtend soybeans planted next to Xtend beans in research plots at the Ashland Bottoms farm near Manhattan, KS. Dallas Peterson, K-State Research and Extension / CC BY 2.0

Top Seed Companies Urge EPA to Limit Dicamba

Two of the nation's largest independent seed sellers, Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place limits on the spraying of the drift-prone pesticide dicamba, Reuters reported.

This could potentially hurt Monsanto, which along with DowDupont and BASF SE, makes dicamba formulations to use on Monsanto's Xtend seeds that are genetically engineered to resist applications of the weedkiller. Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, as well as other companies, sell those seeds.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Baby son in high chair feeding father. Getty Images

Baby Food Tests Find 68 Percent Contain 'Worrisome' Levels of Heavy Metals

Testing published by Consumer Reports (CR) Thursday found "concerning levels" of toxic metals in popular U.S. baby and toddler food.

The consumer advocacy group tested 50 nationally-distributed, packaged foods designed for toddlers and babies for mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to journalists outside the White House West Wing before attending a Trump cabinet meeting on Aug. 16. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Zinke Announces Plan to Fight Wildfires With More Logging

The Trump administration announced a new plan Thursday to fight ongoing wildfires with more logging, and with no mention of additional funding or climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Wangan and Jagalingou cultural leader Adrian Burragubba visits Doongmabulla Springs in Australia. The Wangan and Jagalingou are fighting a proposed coal mine that would likely destroy the springs, which are sacred to the Indigenous Australian group. Wangan and Jagalingou

Indigenous Australians Take Fight Against Giant Coal Mine to the United Nations

By Noni Austin

For tens of thousands of years, the Wangan and Jagalingou people have lived in the flat arid lands of central Queensland, Australia. But now they are fighting for their very existence. Earlier this month, they took their fight to the United Nations after years of Australia's failure to protect their fundamental human rights.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!