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After 17 days and 1,000 miles, mother orca Tahlequah drops her dead calf

Tahlequah was continuing to carry her calf for the 17th consecutive day on Thursday, Aug. 9. Here she is photographed carrying her calf at Point No Point on the south shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Center for Whale Research / TNS)
Tahlequah was continuing to carry her calf for the 17th consecutive day on Thursday, Aug. 9. Here she is photographed carrying her calf at Point No Point on the south shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Center for Whale Research / TNS)

Tahlequah the mother orca is no longer carrying her dead calf.

“J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy,” Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research wrote in an email to The Seattle Times. “The ordeal of her carrying a dead calf for at least seventeen days and 1,000 miles is now over, thank goodness.”

Balcomb said J35, a member of the critically endangered southern resident orca whale population, probably has lost two others since her son was born in 2010.

“She is alive and well and at least over that part of her grief. Today was the first day that I for sure saw her. It is no longer there,” Balcomb said of the calf.

J35 showed no signs of “peanut head,” a condition that betrays malnutrition in an orca, as the cranium bones begin to show. “She’s been eating,” Balcomb said.

People around the world were moved by the plight of the southern residents as Tahlequah carried her dead baby, a female, day after day.

Another member of the population is ailing, J50, and biologists on both sides of the border were working over the weekend to monitor her condition.

The Lummi Nation is standing by to feed J50 live salmon, possibly as soon as Sunday.

A veterinary review of J50, a 4 1/2-year-old, on Thursday night encouraged veterinarians and biologists who said her condition is better than they expected. But she remains terribly thin and severely malnourished.

Lack of food has also be linked to the southern residents’ failure for three years now to produce offspring.

“The reason J35 lost her baby and the others are losing their babies is there is not enough salmon,” Balcomb said of the whales’ primary food source. “Hopefully we will do something about that.”


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