After 17 days, killer whale lets dead newborn calf go

13 Août, 2018, 08:41 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • Tahlequah is no longer carrying her dead calf and appears to be vigorous and healthy as she swims with her pod in Haro Strait off San Juan Island on Saturday. Her ordeal of carrying her dead calf for at least 17 days and 1,000 miles is over

The adult female named Tahlequah, or J35 by scientists, was spotted swimming without her baby near San Juan Island off Washington's coast on Saturday, scientists said.

"There had been reports from brief sightings by whale-watchers two days ago that J35 (Tahlequah) was not pushing the calf carcass in Georgia Strait near Vancouver, BC; and, now we can confirm that she definitely has abandoned it".

According to Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research, the 20-year-old whale appeared healthy despite her weeks-long ordeal.

An audio recording from earlier this month apparently featured the mother's "mournful and prominent" calls, Q13 Fox reported.

After carrying her deceased baby for at least 17 days and 1,000 miles, an orca mother has shown signs of returning to normal.

Dr. Martin Haulena, the chief veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium, said a one- or two-day "mourning period" is common in many cetacean species such as whales and dolphins, but the 17-day-long journey was distinctly odd.

Researchers had anxious J35, who was last spotted with her dead calf Wednesday, was not eating properly and was spending too much energy pushing the corpse.

Killer whales have been known to carry dead calves for a week, but scientists believe this mother "sets a record".

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"I am sobbing. I can't believe she is still carrying her calf around", Giles told the Seattle Times.

Photos and video showing Tahlequah keeping the baby whale's body afloat soon after it died quickly went viral, especially after each passing day.

"Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky".

Researchers were hoping to collect the carcass after J35 let it go to find out why it died.

The lack of Chinook salmon, threats from toxic contamination and disturbance from vessels in the water - which disrupts the whales' ability to communicate and forage - have all threatened the animals' ability to thrive in recent times.

"The remains must have fallen off in the day or two she was not seen, and drifted to the bottom", he said.

Still, the newborn's death has larger meaning in the southern resident killer whale population that is so endangered there are only 75 left, with no successful births in three years.

"The population (of orcas) is both Canadian and American in terms of moving back and forth, so it's been a real coordination between governments, NGOs, and also the research community", he said.

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