An orca mother and her (living) calf
Image: via AP

For the last two weeks, I have been following the incredibly depressing story of an orca whale in the Pacific Ocean who continued to carry the body of her dead calf long after she died. According to reports, the bereaved mother has finally let go of the calf’s body, which hopefully means she and I can begin the process of moving on.

According to CNN, orca whale Tahlequah gave birth to a female calf a little over two weeks ago, but she died just about an hour after she was born. Tahlequah then proceeded to cover over 1000 miles between Vancouver and San Juan Island while carrying the calf’s body, balancing it on her head to keep it from sinking into the water, per the Washington Post. Researchers with Center for Whale Research spent 17 days watching her follow her pod while pushing her calf, but on Saturday, they finally spotted her without it, according to a post on their website (emphasis mine):

This afternoon at 1407 Pacific Daylight Time, J35 vigorously chased a school of salmon with her pod-mates in mid-Haro Strait in front of the Center for Whale Research for a half mile - no longer carrying the deceased baby that she had carried for at least seventeen days and 1,000 miles. Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky. Telephoto digital images taken from shore show that this mother whale appears to be in good physical condition (no evidence of “peanut-head”) following her record-setting ordeal. There had been reports from brief sightings by whale-watchers two days ago that J35 (Tahlequah) was not pushing the calf carcass in Georgia Strait near Vancouver, BC; and, now we can confirm that she definitely has abandoned it.

The center also says the calf’s body “has probably sunk to the bottom of these inland marine waters of the Salish Sea, and researchers may not get a chance to examine it for necropsy,” so we’ll never know why the baby calf had to die. This is particularly upsetting because researchers say that the specific pod of orcas Tahlequah rolls with has diminished in numbers over the last few decades, and that her baby calf was actually the pod’s first live birth since 2015—they had hoped an opportunity to study the calf’s body would at least yield some answers as to why this particular pod is struggling so hard to survive. Either way, I hope Tahlequah is able to find some happiness out there in the calf-less sea.