More than two weeks after the death of her baby, a grieving orca whale has released her dead calf's body after carrying it around the Pacific Northwest's waters.
"The ordeal of J35 carrying her dead calf for at least seventeen days and [1600km] is now over, thank goodness", researcher Ken Balcomb said on Twitter.
On Jul. 24, Tahlequah's baby orca died shortly after birth, in what has been a common story for the southern resident killer whale population.
Tahlequah, as the mother has come to be called, gave birth on July 25 in what should have been a happy milestone for her long-suffering clan.
Meanwhile researchers have been tending to ailing orca J50, a 3½-year-old whale who has lost 20 percent of her body mass and developed a depression near the base of her skull.
J35 (Talequah) swimming with her pod-mates after ending her "tour of grief" August 11, 2018.
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"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", the CWR said in a statement at the time.
Aside from the emotional impact, this behaviour can have physical consequences too, but new telephoto images taken by the Centre for Whale Research reveal Tahlequah appears to be in good physical condition, with no evidence of 'peanut head' skull deformations incurred by the relentless pushing and not enough food.
Researchers had hoped to perform a necropsy on J35's dead calf but that is likely not possible now.
Tahlequah is one of two orcas in the pod that scientists have been monitoring. "And we know that it swam by her side.so there is a part of me that believes that the grief could be much deeper, because they had bonded".
Scientists have also moved to save J-50, another whale in the endangered pod. "Orcas. are charismatic megafauna", she said.
J35, also known as Tahlequah, was spotted by officials of Fisheries and Oceans Canada while they were searching for another of the 75 southern resident killer whales, labelled an endangered species in both Canada and the United States. He said the mother traveled more than 1,000 miles with the corpse.