Mother Whale Finally Says Goodbye to Her Dead Calf After a ‘Tour of Grief’

'J35 frolicked past my window today ... she looks vigorous,' said researcher of mammal's recovery

Image Credit: Center for Whale Research

The Book of Ecclesiastes (3: 1-2) in the Old Testament reads, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck that which is planted.”

These words played out poignantly in the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean recently, when a mother killer whale carried her dead calf for 17 days and across 1,000 miles in an extraordinary ritual of grief.

Known endearingly as Tahlequah, the mother orca whale captured the attention of many around the globe with her unyielding devotion to her young one even after the baby’s death.

Also known as J35, Tahlequah is part of the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whale population, according to The Seattle Times.

“J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy,” wrote Ken Balcomb, founding director of the center for whale research, in an email, according to The Times. “The ordeal of her carrying a dead calf for at least 17 days and 1,000 miles is now over, thank goodness.”

The loss of the most recent calf “may have been emotionally hard on her,” noted Balcomb.

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“Regrettably, approximately 75 percent of newborns in the recent two decades following designation of the Southern Resident killer whale [orca] population as ‘endangered’ have not survived, and 100 percent of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce viable offspring,” according to the website for the whale research center.

The center is dedicated to the study and conservation of the Southern Resident killer whale (orca) population in the Pacific Northwest. It’s based in Friday Harbor, Washington, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle.

Orcas have been listed as endangered since 2005, and sadly, they show little sign of recovery.

See the mother whale’s devotion in video, below:

“These fish-eating whales feed primarily on endangered Chinook salmon. Population growth is constrained by low offspring production for the number of reproductive females in the population. Lack of prey, increased toxins, and vessel disturbance have been listed as potential causes of the whale’s decline,” according to scientists and researchers whose work is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

But for now there’s reason to celebrate — as one mother continues on her journey.

Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.

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