Photo Credit: Michael Weiss/Center for Whale Research, via Associated Press
By: Sarah Sharkey
A heartbreaking loss was witnessed near Victoria, British Columbia in late July. An orca, J35, of
the critically endangered southern resident population gave birth to a female whale.
Everyone was so excited! This was the first calf to be born alive in the last three years.
Researchers were thrilled that both the mother and baby seemed to be doing well. The pod
also seemed very pleased with their new addition. However, within an hour, the young calf
stopped moving. J35 was forced to watch the baby that she had carried for 17 months die.
The death of this calf was a devastating blow to orcas and researchers alike, but J35 took it the
hardest. She refused to let go of the young calf’s body. She carried the body around on her
head for days. She continued to push the calf to the surface, perhaps in hopes of reviving it.
J35 has kept up with her pod as they travel between 60 to 70 miles a day, with the 400-pound
calf on her head. It is not an easy feat, but the mother is unable to let go of this precious body
She is clearly grieving in a horribly raw way that tears at our hearts. It is likely that she has not
eaten for days and it is not clear how long she will continue to carry around her dead calf.
In addition to the personal pain of J35, the loss of a calf in a critically endangered population is
heartbreaking. Researchers have speculated that the young calf probably died due to
malnutrition of the mother, likely caused by the lack of Chinook salmon in the area.
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