Grieving Mother Orca Refuses To Let Dead Baby Go After 10 Days

The story has gone viral - bringing attention to the sophisticated grieving rituals of animals
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Tahlequah carries her dead baby (Photo: Michael Weiss, Center for Whale Research)

Tahlequah carries her dead baby (Photo: Michael Weiss, Center for Whale Research)

In what experts have dubbed a 'display of extreme grief', a female orca has been documented carrying her dead calf for more than 10 days.

Tahlequah, also known as J35, gave birth to a baby girl on July 24 in the waters around Victoria, B.C.. The calf, the first born alive to the pod in three years, died shortly after.

In the days since the baby died, Tahlequah's story has gone viral, with millions around the world following the mother as she grieves.

Grieving

Just three days after the birth, Ken Balcomb, Founder and Principal investigator of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, told The Washington Post: "That's not unprecedented [carrying the dead body], but it's the longest one that I’ve personally witnessed."

Tahlequah continued to follow her pod, covering around 60-70 miles a day, carrying the 400-pound body of her calf afloat on her nose. After several days, different members of the pod started carrying the body, allowing a reprieve for Tahlequah.

Jenny Atkinson, Director of the Whale Museum on San Juan Island, told As It Happens podcast: "We do know her family is sharing the responsibility of caring for this calf, that she's not always the one carrying it, that they seem to take turns. While we don't have photos of the other whales carrying it, because we've seen her so many times without the calf, we know that somebody else has it."

Numerous outlets have covered the story

Funeral

According to vegan charity PETA, this may be the animals' own version of a wake or funeral. "For at least nine days, the world has watched in heartbreak as a distraught Southern Resident orca mom known as Tahlequah (or 'J35') carries the body of her dead calf through the ocean, seemingly unable to say goodbye," the charity said.

"Showing awesome teamwork and solidarity, other members of the orca’s family or social pod - known as the 'J pod' - have begun to help her keep her calf's body from sinking into the depths.

"According to a report, some experts who have been observing these orcas have expressed the belief that these remarkable animals are holding 'their own version of a wake or funeral'."