Killer Whale That Pushed Dead Calf for 17 Days in Water Has Finally Let Go


Grief is a powerful emotion, even in the animal kingdom.

In the last several decades, scientific developments such as tracking devices and hidden cameras have allowed us to get an even closer look into the lives of animals and study their behaviors, both in everyday experiences and in times of extreme distress.

Recently, the world watched with teary eyes as a mother killer whale grieved her dead newborn calf by carrying it through the ocean on her head for well over two weeks and one thousand miles.

The calf was born on July 24, but only lived for a little while. By the time a team from the Center for Whale Research arrived at the whales’ location to photograph the newborn for their census records, the calf had already passed away.

This baby was the first birth from this particular pod in three years. “Regrettably, approximately 75% of newborns in the recent two decades … have not survived, and 100% of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce viable offspring,” researchers said.

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According to the CWR, “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.”

In an interview with CBS News, wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin said that this behavior was typical of mother whales.

“When a baby is born, after up to a potentially 18-month-long pregnancy, mom and the other females and nurses within her pod will instinctively try to drive the baby to the surface to take a breath.”

Discussing the intense mother-calf bond whales have, Corwin explained why this particular whale — designated “J35” by researchers and nicknamed “Tahlequah” — was carrying her baby for so long.

“She literally is pushing her baby to connect with it in a hope against hope, hoping that it will take a breath — which it will never do.”

Now, after 17 days of pushing her calf to the surface, J35 has finally let her baby go and has resumed seemingly normal behavior.

She was last seen chasing a school of salmon with the rest of her pod, no calf in sight.

“Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky,” researchers said in an update on the whale’s health.

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Within the last couple of days, researchers were growing increasingly concerned with the emotional and physical health of the mother whale, as carrying her calf was taking a toll on her ability to keep up with her pod.

Now that J35 has concluded her “tour of grief,” many are relieved by her survival and strong recovery, using her story to inspire others to care about the plight of endangered killer whales.

“Tahlequah united millions of people worldwide in heartbreak and love as she carried her dead calf for 1,000 miles,” said Ben Smith, Field Organizing Manager for Greenpeace USA.

Smith added that killer whales like Tahlequah are an “important part of the culture and history of the Pacific Northwest” and need greater protection if they are to thrive again.

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