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Orca mother carries dead calf for fifth day: ‘Her entire family is also staying close by’

The orca known as J35, or Tahlequah, has been pushing her dead calf for five days as of Saturday.
The orca known as J35, or Tahlequah, has been pushing her dead calf for five days as of Saturday. AP

A mourning orca whale continued carrying her dead calf for a fifth straight day Saturday.

J35, or Tahlequah, was seen at 3:15 p.m. in Canadian waters.

“It is just unbelievable, she is still carrying her calf on her head, pushing it through the water,” said Taylor Shedd of Soundwatch, who has been keeping vigil with the whale during daylight hours all week. “Her entire family is also staying close by with her.”

The sad spectacle began Tuesday when Tahlequah gave birth to a calf that lived for only a half-hour.

People around the world have been watching the grieving whale and her family, members of the critically endangered southern resident clan of orcas that frequent the waters of the inland Salish Sea in summer.

Wrote Shedd, “Her perfectly curved dorsal fin, her brilliant white saddle patch with the faintest of scratches and black finger, and the tiniest of notches at the base of her dorsal fin that in the right light catches the sun and just shines for a moment. Her arching back glistening in the sun as she dives. It would be the most beautiful sight in the world if you didn’t know what was happening.”

Meanwhile, researchers are also keeping watch over J50, a 4-year-old member of the same family that appears to be starving.

She was the first born in a baby boom of orcas beginning in December 2014 in which 11 young eventually were born.

That good news coincided with more robust salmon runs including the chinook overwhelmingly favored by the J, K and L families of southern residents.

But when the salmon runs crashed, the whales did, too. By now five of the young whales from the boom have died and J50 could be next.

Tahlequah’s mourning ritual has brought a pall of grief to a region and raised sharply the urgency of the whales’ plight.

Ken Balcomb, of the Center for Whale Research, saw a message in the whale’s sorrow, on such public display now for a fifth day: “They need wild salmon.”