Researchers can do nothing but watch as an endangered orca mother carries her dead calf for what is now the fourth straight day in the Salish Sea.
J35, as the orca is known, is being observed as she carries her dead calf on her rostrum, an area of her head just behind the nose. The baby was born on Tuesday near Victoria, British Columbia, which is about 75 miles northwest of Seattle, and died shortly after.
Members of the Soundwatch Boater Education Program, which is run by the Whale Museum in Olympia, Wash., and educates boaters on marine mammal safety, will not remove the baby until the mother leaves it after her mourning period. Then, after an extended period of time, the team will attempt to recover the calf to examine it in hopes that they can prevent deaths like this in the future.
According to the Center for Whale Research via USA Today, orca mothers are known to have strong bonds with their offspring and, in the case of death, will sometimes carry a dead calf for up to a week.
“It’s tough to watch and hard work, but we won’t give up as long as she doesn’t,” Taylor Shedd, program coordinator for Soundwatch, told the Seattle Times.
Shedd said that the mother orca’s breaths are deep and long, and she is slower to rise to the surface than the others in her family, who remain within 400 yards of her. The family, which includes her other calf, are foraging, and Shedd hopes that the others are feeding her fish while she grieves.
Barbara King, professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary and author of the book How Animals Grieve, told the Seattle Times that J35 is experiencing intense grief. “Grief and love don’t belong to us, we share it with other animals,” King explained.
According to CTV News, it was the first calf born in three years in the Pacific Northwest. The population of the endangered orcas is at its lowest in over three decades.