Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Orca Mother Still Carrying Her Dead Calf 17 Days Later

Animals
Orca Mother Still Carrying Her Dead Calf 17 Days Later
Tahlequah or J35, has carried her dead calf for 17 days as of Thursday. Center for Whale Research

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.

People Have the Power - VOTE 2020

Climate-action nonprofit Pathway to Paris first launched in 2014 with an "intimate evening" of music and conversation after the People's Climate March in New York City.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Heo Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. sarote pruksachat / Moment / Getty Images

A national park in Thailand has come up with an innovative way to make sure guests clean up their own trash: mail it back to them.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The 2020 presidential election poses a critical test of climate conservatives' willingness to put their environmental concerns before party politics. filo / Getty Images

By Ilana Cohen

Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.

But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.

Read More Show Less
Headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva amid the COVID-19 outbreak on Aug. 17, 2020. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that 64 high-income nations have joined an effort to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine fairly, prioritizing the most vulnerable citizens, as Science reported. The program is called the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or Covax, and it is a joint effort led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Read More Show Less
Exterior of Cold Tube demonstration pavilion. Lea Ruefenacht

By Gloria Oladipo

In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch