Published: Mon, August 13, 2018
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Grieving mother orca is still holding her calf’s body above the water

Grieving mother orca is still holding her calf’s body above the water

An endangered orca was spotted Wednesday still clinging to her dead and decomposing calf, more than two weeks after her newborn died in what scientists have said is an "unprecedented" showing of grief. "But this sets a record", Centre for Whale Research senior scientist Ken Balcomb told the BBC.

They spotted J35 while searching for another of the 75 southern resident killer whales, labelled an endangered species in both Canada and the United States.

According to federal biologists, this poor young orca is extremely emaciated and lethargic.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it is working closely with the US Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to determine the best way to proceed.

A team of veterinarians is now waiting in the state of Washington to try to approach the J-50 killer whale to give him antibiotics in USA waters.

J35 was first spotted July 24 carrying the calf on her nose and in her mouth. "Is that not only is she not improving, it looks like she's deteriorating over the period of time when we would expect to see the condition improve".

Michael Milstein with NOAA Fisheries says experts plan to do a health assessment of the young whale if conditions allow.

"We want to know whether she's eating, we want to know whether she regurgitates or vomits after she eats, we want to know whether she is defecating and the character of those defecations", said Marty Haulena, a veterinarian with the Vancouver Aquarium who has been helping with the effort.

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The carcass is "surprisingly intact", she said.

"For close approaches, what we're needing to try to do is to match course and speed of the animals and then very slowly and cautiously move in so we don't disturb them", he said.

USA and Canadian officials acknowledged Thursday that they're concerned that J35's apparent grieving process could prevent her from foraging, but they have no plans to intervene at this point to remove the dead calf. However, Hanson said, conditions have to be just right to do so. The fish could be a vehicle to deliver medication to her that can't be administered any other way.

"What we are going to concentrate on in the next few days is her ability to eat", said Haulena. By the time biologists from the Center for Whale Research arrived at her side, the calf was dead.

It was hearing initial recommendations focused on three main threats to the orcas: lack of food, toxic contamination and boat noise and disturbance. She returned to her family of whales in Canada later that year and in 2013 was seen with her new calf.

The last time scientists rescued a killer whale in the region was in 2002 when a northern resident killer whale known as Springer was found swimming alone in Puget Sound.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced late Thursday that response teams spotted J50, also known as Scarlet, and the rest of her pod of southern resident killer whales in Canadian waters and followed them into the USA near San Juan Island.

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