Orca's 'tour of grief' over after carrying dead calf for weeks

Tahlequah is no longer carrying her dead calf and appears to be vigorous and healthy as she swims with her pod in Haro Strait off San Juan Island on Saturday. Her ordeal of carrying her dead calf for at least 17 days and 1,000 miles is over

Her calf died just 30 minutes after it was first spotted by a whale watch operator on July 24. But studies have found that orcas really do possess high levels of intelligence and empathy, and emotions that may not be totally alien to our own. "This is an animal that is grieving for its dead baby, and she doesn't want to let it go". When calves are stillborn or die shortly after birth, Haulena said the mothers instinctively drive the calf upward, and may continue to do so for 48 hours.

"The baby's carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother, who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas", the CWR said in a statement at the time.

Deborah Giles, a research scientist and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca, said watching the orca with her calf was emotionally draining.

Orcas, also called killer whales, are highly social, and this pod was spotted Friday afternoon near Vancouver, British Columbia.

But for now at least, life goes on for Tahlequah. Eventually, researchers stopped calling what they were witnessing "rare" and began using the word "unprecedented". People lost sleep thinking about the whale.

And still, Tahlequah carried her child.

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The centre says J35 appears to be in good health based on telephoto images, in spite of concerns she may not have been able to forage for food while carrying around the carcass.

These orcas are facing a real threat of extinction, with no successful pregnancies in the last three years. They are tracking the young whale - Scarlet - in an attempt to feed her antibiotic-laced salmon.

In that sense, maybe, Tahlequah's doomed calf did bring new hope to the pod, which had previously swam and struggled in near anonymity.

Researchers commonly refer to the mother orca as J-35.

J35, also known as Tahlequah, was seen Saturday off San Juan Island without the calf, the Center for Whale Research said in a web post.

"J35, the mom, seems to be doing well, very energetic and travelling with her family members", he said in an e-mail. But the bonds between mothers and calves are extremely strong. He said the mother traveled more than 1,000 miles with the corpse.

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