Published: Mon, August 13, 2018
Research | By Francis Brooks

Mother Orca Spotted Carrying Dead Calf For 17th Day

Mother Orca Spotted Carrying Dead Calf For 17th Day

An endangered orca is still clinging to her dead calf in the waters of British Columbia more than two weeks after her newborn died.

Scientists are also anxious about another member of the endangered orcas.

J50/Scarlet Update: Determined teams from Fisheries and Oceans Canada spotted Jpod again today (8/8), this time in U.S.

The U.S. and Canada have no plans to remove J50 from her pod in order to feed or medicate her, as that would likely cause too much stress to J50 and her pod.

Researchers were also able to obtain a breath sample to further assess the 3-year-old orca's health and determine if the calf has an infection.

If things go well, she said, the team could move ahead with feeding the orca live salmon from a boat.

Tahlequah, referred to by scientists as J35, was spotted Wednesday by Canadian scientists pushing the body of her calf off the coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

No intervention is planned, she said, but they will monitor her condition.

United States and Canadian scientists said they were concerned about the mother's condition and would keep monitoring her but have no plans to help her or remove the calf. We know they're capable of emotions like grief because the parts of their brains that do social and emotional work are big and elaborate, and they even contain specialized empathy cells called von Economo neurons, which help highly social animals like primates, elephants and whales achieve the extreme levels of cooperation that's required of them.

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An global team of experts has been waiting for an opportunity to get close to the female killer whale so they can carry out an emergency plan that includes giving it antibiotics or feeding it live salmon at sea.

The agency wants to see whether it can deliver medication to the whale through live Chinook salmon but first needs to test whether the orca will take its preferred food source.

"Even if her family is foraging for and sharing fish with her, J35 can not be getting the. nutrition she needs to regain any body-mass loss that would have naturally occurred during the gestation of her fetus and also additional loss of nutrition during these weeks of mourning", she said.

The fish-eating orcas that frequent the inland waters of Washington state are down to 75 animals, and there has not been a successful birth since 2015.

They also face overlapping threats from toxic pollution and noise and disturbances from boats. She returned to her family of whales in Canada later that year and was seen with her calf in 2013.

Experts have been watching the young whale lose weight since June and they took the novel action in an effort to prevent the loss of more reproductive potential within the population.

Because Tahlequah was pregnant, it is possible she began carrying her deceased calf with an extra boost of lipids in her blubber that could be helping her now, said Dawn Noren, research fishery biologist at NOAA's Northwest Center in Seattle.

"Having not laid eyes on her personally before, it was dramatic how thin she is", Haulena said.

The last time scientists rescued a killer whale in the region was in 2002, when they rehabilitated an orca known as Springer who was found alone.

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