Tahlequah, the killer whale who carried her dead calf around for 17 days because she couldn’t bear to let go, is a mother again.
She gave birth on July 25, 2018, but just an hour later her 400-pound female calf died, leaving the new mother bereft and resulting in the killer whale balancing the body on her forehead for 1,000 miles as she followed her pod around the ocean.
Now, a little over a month since scientists revealed Tahlequah was pregnant again, the killer whale – also known as J35 by researchers – has given birth to a calf that is said to be in ‘good condition’.
Tahlequah was one of several pregnant killer whales monitored by the nonprofit organisation SR3, which recently finished recording drone images of three different pods. These photo surveys were used to assess the body condition of the whales over time.
Every single calf was monitored over a period of months across the three pods, with researchers keen to ensure each was carried to term in a population that has recently dwindled to just 72 orcas – the lowest in more than 40 years.
John Durban, senior scientist at Southall Environmental Associates, told The Seattle Times they were ‘really encouraged’ Tahlequah carried the calf to term, adding, ‘[We] hope our continued monitoring shows it to be in good condition, and [to] document its growth.’
The calf that Tahlequah carried two years ago would have been the first for the southern resident orcas in three years. Thankfully, since then the whales have had three more calves – Tahlequah’s being the most recent – all of which thankfully continue to survive.
Deborah Giles, science and research director for nonprofit organisation Wild Orca, was on the water with all three of the pods on Saturday, September 5, to collect fecal samples from the orcas for ongoing research by the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology.
What she saw was encouraging, with Giles telling The Seattle Times:
It was a fantastic day with members of all three pods. We were hugely successful, collecting seven samples, our daily record for the year. The whales behaved much like we used to see them, socialising, with lots of amazing surface active behaviour.
This is particularly encouraging because such behaviour has become less common in recent years, as the whales’ food supplies decline and the orca families are forced to spread out to hunt, leaving their pods and socialising less.
There are currently a number of threats facing the southern resident orcas, including the lack of chinook salmon – their preferred food – pollution and other disturbances that make it difficult for them to feed.
Thankfully though, Tahlequah’s baby and the other two calves were born healthy and continue to thrive in their new environment.
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The Seattle Times