Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Orca Mother Who Carried Dead Calf 17 Days Is Pregnant Again

Orca Mother Who Carried Dead Calf 17 Days Is Pregnant Again
Tahlequah, the southern resident killer whale who carried her dead calf for 17 days and more than 1,000 miles, is pregnant again. CBC News: The National / YouTube

Tahlequah, the southern resident killer whale who broke hearts around the world when she carried her dead calf for 17 days and more than 1,000 miles, is pregnant again.

Tahlequah's grueling journey called attention to the plight of the endangered orcas who roam the waters between Washington state and British Columbia. The animals are threatened by boat traffic, pollution and the decline in their food staple chinook salmon.

"There are stressed whales out there, critically stressed," Holly Fearnbach, marine mammal research director for the nonprofit SR3, told The Associated Press.

Fearnbach discovered Tahlequah, or J-35's, pregnancy while recording drone images of the southern resident killer whales with Southall Environmental Associates senior scientist John Durban, The Seattle Times reported.

The purpose of the drone photographs was to track the orcas' overall condition and nutrition over time in a non-invasive manner, SR3 explained. (The drone flies more than 100 feet above the whales, according to The Seattle Times.) But comparing the photographs revealed several pregnancies in J, K and L pods.

Orca pregnancies are common, but successful births are far less so. Two thirds of them are typically lost, Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington researcher Sam Wasser has found. This is mostly due to poor nutrition linked to a decline in salmon.

When Tahlequah gave birth two years ago, it was the first birth for southern residents in three years. Since then, two other calves have been born to the orcas, and both are still alive. However, the population as a whole is down to just 73 whales, according to a Center for Whale Research population census.

"With such a small population ... every successful birth is hugely important for recovery," SR3 wrote.

Fearnbach and Durban told The Seattle Times that boaters could help the pregnant whales by giving them space and quiet to feed.

This is important for two reasons. First, orcas tend to return to the same hunting grounds, but many of their traditional spots are seeing a lot of traffic from boats, fishermen and commercial ships.

"Just like human [fishermen] that don't just go drop a hook in the ocean," Durban told The Seattle Times. "They have their favorite places. They are amazing societies that pass culture down from generation to generation. They are creatures of habit."

Second, whales hunt using sound, which is why boat noises are such a big threat.

"[W]e hope folks on the water can give the Southern Residents plenty of space to forage at this important time," SR3 wrote.

The pregnant whales aren't the only ones in need of support right now. Fearnbach told The Associated Press that several juvenile whales appeared skinny.

A seagull flies in front of the Rampion offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom. Neil / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton

Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.

Read More Show Less


Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash

By Lynne Peeples

Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.

In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.

Read More Show Less
Eat Just's cell-based chicken nugget is now served at Singapore restaurant 1880. Eat Just, Inc.

At a time of impending global food scarcity, cell-based meats and seafood have been heralded as the future of food.

Read More Show Less
New Zealand sea lions are an endangered species and one of the rarest species of sea lions in the world. Art Wolfe / Photodisc / Getty Images

One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.

Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less