Grieving mother orca is still holding her calf’s body above the water

Pearl Mccarthy
August 12, 2018

During the first three days of her calf's death, the orca swam with her pod but carried along her baby's almost 400 pound body.

Meanwhile, biologists and veterinarians mobilized Thursday in an attempt to prevent more losses in the imperiled J Pod family, with J50, age 3½, feared to be near death from starvation.

An worldwide team of experts has been waiting for an opportunity to get close to the female killer whale so they can carry out an emergency plan that includes giving it antibiotics or feeding it live salmon at sea.

Last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a video statement on Facebook detailing what his office is doing to protect the orca population in the waters around the state.

The last time scientists rescued a killer whale in the region was in 2002 when a northern resident killer whale known as Springer was found swimming alone in Puget Sound.

"I am sobbing. I can't believe she is still carrying her calf around", Deborah Giles, a research scientist and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca, told the Seattle Times. The situation is most certainly urgent, especially considering that this sick orca is one of the mere 75 individuals of her kind left on Earth.

Giles said the spotlight on the animals, while itself disgusting news, has already led to skyrocketing worry about their plight. The scientists said they have no plans to intervene; removing the dead calf would have serious repercussions to the group.

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Balcomb speculates J35 will drop her baby soon, after carrying it for more than 1,000 miles.

Any intervention with the pod will be contingent on the behavior of the whales, as well as the weather and swell conditions. It was hearing initial recommendations focused on three main threats to the orcas: lack of food, toxic contamination and boat noise and disturbance. Which is why Southern Resident Orca J35, or Tahlequah, the 20-year-old killer whale whose calf died only a half hour after birth on July 24, 2018, near Victoria, British Columbia, has been getting so much attention.

"She was breathing very well; her respiratory rate was normal", he said.

"We've been saying it for 20 years, the humans who have been studying these animals", Giles said, before noting that now "the animals themselves in the last three weeks, it's nearly like they've taken the torch".

Rowles said injections of antibiotics or sedatives have been given to other free-swimming whales or dolphins that were injured or entangled but it hasn't been done for free-swimming whales in this area. That data has documented orcas that declined and then disappeared. It could be that the animal is starving, or some other disease process is resulting in them not wanting to eat, Dr Hanson said. A final report is due in November.

Biologists will watch to see if the young whale is foraging, determine if she vomits after eating, observe the health of her scat, and obtain a fecal sample.

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