Orca Mother Grieves Dead Calf More Than Two Weeks and Counting

Orca Mother Grieves Dead Calf More Than Two Weeks and Counting

Kenneth Drake
August 13, 2018

After ruling out respiratory diseases as causes of her condition, they are now focusing how how well the orca is eating.

A mother orca was spotted today still carrying her dead calf for the 16th straight day after the infant was born off the Canada coast near Victoria, British Columbia and died shortly afterwards.

Scientists are anxious that Tahlequah, or J35, is not getting adequate food because she has been carrying her baby for so long.

The distinctive black-and-white orcas have struggled since they were listed as an endangered species in the USA and Canada over a decade ago.

Another female orca from the group that spends time in U.S. Northwest waters attracted global attention as the grieving animal tried to keep her dead baby afloat.

Brad Hanson of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says hard conditions have prevented the teams from collecting breath and fecal samples but they are hoping weather conditions improve by Sunday.

A team of veterinarians is now waiting in the state of Washington to try to approach the J-50 killer whale to give him antibiotics in U.S. waters.

Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale research scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said they'll often see the southern residents with poor body conditions at the start of the summer, but they improve over the season as they feed on chinook salmon.

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That changed in late July, when a female member of the group - known as J35, or Tahlequah - gave birth to a calf, but the baby whale only lived for 30 minutes.

Fisheries and Oceans officials say they are ready to act quickly if the response is to take place in Canadian waters. NOAA would apply for the feeding permit if conditions are right, said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries' recovery coordinator for the whales.

Marty Haulena, head veterinarian at Vancouver Aquarium, thinks about half of the dose went into the young orca.

"Removing the calf would be a very, very hard decision, and obviously we would have to take many factors into consideration, so that's now not on the table", she said.

Experts have been watching the young whale lose weight since June and they took the novel action in an effort to prevent the loss of more reproductive potential within the population. Scientists are anxious about her and will watch her but don't have plans to help her or remove the calf.

Her apparent act of grief has tugged at the world's heartstrings for weeks and shown the struggles faced by her endangered pod of southern resident killer whales. What would be unique is giving the orca medication through live fish, Rowles said. "It's very hard to say, but certainly they're very intelligent animals and the loss of this animal is quite profound for both the (killer whales) and I think for everyone who witnesses this".

It was hearing initial recommendations focused on three main threats to the orcas: lack of food, toxic contamination and boat noise and disturbance. She was last seen Thursday still carrying her calf. She was fed live salmon in the pen.