Health

Researchers won’t take dead orca calf away from mother as she carries it into a 17th day

Researchers won’t take dead orca calf away from mother as she carries it into a 17th day

As Tahlequah carries her deceased calf for a 17th straight day, and concerns mount about her health, taking the calf away is not an option because of the tight bond between Tahlequah and the rest of the pod to her baby—dead or alive, experts say.


“These are very intelligent animals, and the loss of this animal is quite profound for the matriline and everyone who witnesses it,” said Sheila Thornton, lead killer-whale scientist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada. She saw Tahlequah continuing to carry the calf Tuesday as J pod traveled south to the outer coast of Cape Flattery, Wash.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research on Thursday saw Tahlequah still continuing to carry the calf, born July 24, for the 17th straight day. He estimated she has carried the calf more than 1,000 miles. The carcass is starting to come apart; the calf’s insides were visible atop Tahlequah’s head Thursday morning. Yet still she clings to the body of her baby.

“I certainly think the length of the situation is unprecedented,” Thornton said. “There are many species who do undertake this sort of behavior if a young animal has failed to survive, they will carry the carcass, you can look at that as mourning behavior.”

Several recent scientific papers and publications have documented grieving behavior in whales and dolphins, and scientists working in the Salish Sea have themselves witnessed similar sad sights of mothers carrying deceased calves.