A mother killer whale’s grief has left her carrying her dead calf for four days and separated from the rest of her pod.
The calf – born to a Southern Resident orca called J35 – was alive for just a few hours before it became another grim sign of how endangered this whale species is.
A research team for the Center for Whale Research sailed to the pair, off the Victoria shoreline in British Columbia, Canada, but could not help the calf.
Grieving orca mother carries dead calf for days as killer whales fight for survival
In a press release, the organisation said: “We are saddened to report that a baby Southern Resident killer whale died a short time after it was born near Victoria, British Columbia on July 24, 2018.
“The newborn whale was reported alive and swimming with its mother, J35, and other members of J pod near Clover Point on the Victoria shoreline in mid-morning.
Heartbroken killer whale mum carries her babys lifeless body around for days because she cant accept it die
“A Center for Whale Research team was on the water in Haro Strait at the time and immediately responded to photo-document the newborn calf for the long-term census study we maintain for the US and Canadian governments.
“Unfortunately, by the time the CWR crew arrived on scene, the newborn calf was deceased, and the pod had traveled several miles eastward of the reported sighting location.
“The babys carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas toward San Juan Island, USA.
“The mother continued supporting and pushing the dead baby whale throughout the day until at least sunset.”
Grieving orca mom carries dead calf around for days
About 75 per cent of newborn Southern Resident killer whales die in the last 20 years, the Center for Whale Research says, and in the past three years every pregnancy has failed.
The mother killer whale, named J35 by researchers, gave birth Tuesday in what was initially a hopeful moment. Mother and female calf were seen swimming together that morning near Victoria, British Columbia, according to the Washington state-based Center for Whale Research.
Mother of a dead orca carries it around off the coast of Victoria
The babys carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother, who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas, said the Center for Whale Research in a statement. The mother continued supporting and pushing the dead baby whale throughout the day until at least sunset.
J35 was still holding up her calf as of Friday morning, Lisa Moorby, a Center for Whale Research spokesperson, said. Orcas and dolphins have been known to swim their dead calves for as long as a week.
Ken Balcomb, founder and chief scientist for the San Juan Island-based Center for Whale Research, told the New York Times every time the calf slips into the ocean the orca retrieves it.
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The calfs death highlights the larger tragedy facing orcas and the ecosystem they rely on in the Salish Sea, a waterway stretching from south of Seattle to north of Vancouver.
An orca carries her dead calf. Photo credit: Weiss/Center for Whale Research An orca has been carrying her dead calf on her nose around the coast of Victoria, British Columbia for days.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest J35 swims with her calfs body. Photograph: Ken Balcomb The Center for Whale Research, which monitors the whale population for the American and Canadian governments, reports that three years have passed since an orca residing in the area has birthed a surviving calf. The survival rate in the past two decades has been 75%. Only 75 killer whales in the endangered group, known as southern resident orcas, remain.
The orcas decline is linked to the failure of another iconic Pacific north-west species, the Chinook salmon. Like the southern resident orcas, several Chinook stocks are listed under the US Endangered Species Act. Orcas have struggled to feed as stocks have declined.
This month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists and Washington state fisheries officials announced they had reoriented salmon recovery efforts to save the orcas.
The hormones are switched on to raise the calf and nurture the calf so if it died it would take a while before hormones would start declining. Theyre after going through a 12 month gestation period.
Read more The goal is to apply what weve learned to protect and recover the whales, but were always learning more, Michael Ford of Noaa Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center said recently.
Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research, said orcas required wild salmon, not hatchery-raised fish grown to prop up the commercial and recreational fisheries.
The larger environmental question reflected in the J35 story is that both the USA and Canada must redouble efforts to restore wild salmon … for a food supply for the [southern resident killer whales] in this region, Balcomb said Friday. Hatchery fish are inferior and non-sustainable, and farm fish of course are not available for whale consumption.
Killer whales are long-lived – one Seattle-area orca known as Granny is believed to have lived 106 years before her death in 2016 – but the remaining southern resident orcas must start reproducing again before they grow too old to calf. If they dont, the ageing pods will dwindle for decades before the last orca finally slips beneath the waves.