Researchers scanned the waters all day before the mother orca and her deceased newborn turned up near British Columbia's Southern Gulf Islands.
"I am relieved we see her, that she is healthy and swimming strongly, and that she is with her family," Taylor Shedd of Soundwatch, which has been monitoring the pod, told the publication. "But it is so emotional that she is so caring. It boggles my mind. To carry it is hard for her physically and mentally. It is just heartbreaking."
The baby whale was born near Victoria, British Columbia on July 24. The newborn was seen alive and swimming with its mother, Tahlequah, and other members of its pod near Clover Point on the Victoria shoreline in the mid-morning but died a short time after, according to the Washington-based Center for Whale Research.
"The baby's carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas toward San Juan Island, USA," the center said in a press release. "The mother continued supporting and pushing the dead baby whale throughout the day until at least sunset."
It's not unusual for orcas to carry their dead offspring for about a day or so, researchers told NPR. However, Jenny Atkinson, executive director of The Whale Museum on San Juan Island, noted this is the longest period researchers have observed.
Researchers are also concerned about Tahlequah's health.
"I am so terrified for her well-being," Deborah Giles, a 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."
The story of the "grieving" orca mother has captured international attention as the population of southern resident killer whales fights to survive.
In June, the Center for Whale Research reported that a 23-year-old male orca was missing and presumed dead, leaving the community of orcas with just 75 individuals remaining.
The population grew 48 percent to a high of 98 in 1995, but has since fallen to their lowest number in 30 years.
Experts say their decline is due to pollution, underwater noise and disturbances from boat traffic, and lack of their favored prey, Chinook salmon. Recent deaths, particularly among calves, mothers and pregnant whales, appear to be driven by food scarcity, according to the Center for Whale Research.
"The larger environmental question reflected in the J35 story is that both the USA and Canada MUST redouble efforts to restore wild salmon (particularly Chinook) throughout Washington State and British Columbia for a food supply for the SRKW in this region," the center tweeted last week, citing a statement from founder and senior scientist Ken Balcomb.
The larger environmental question reflected in the J35 story is that both the USA and Canada MUST redouble efforts… https://t.co/QYd4Ak0eUg— Whale Research (@Whale Research)1532727020.0
"The diets of southern resident orcas consist largely of Chinook salmon, but the Chinook are listed on federal and state endangered species lists," Inslee's office stated. "If the Chinook population continues to decline, the southern resident orca population will follow."
Orca Whale 'Crewser' Presumed Dead as Population Reaches Its Lowest Point Since 1984 https://t.co/DnswjvwhXG… https://t.co/1apBKA0gF5— Sea Shepherd SSCS (@Sea Shepherd SSCS)1529448773.0
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.