An endangered orca whale died shortly after its birth on Tuesday, and the calf’s mother has been tending to the body for three days.
The calf was born near near Victoria, British Columbia, located about 75 miles northwest of Seattle. Researchers working to track Southern Resident killer whales responded to the scene, the Center for Whale Research said in a release.
The organization observed the baby’s corpse sinking and the mother repeatedly bringing it back to the surface on Tuesday. The mother supported her offspring’s body on her forehead as she pushed it toward an island, the organization said.
On Thursday, the mother – labeled J35 – entered her third day of mourning with her calf, Ken Balcomb, founder and principal investigator of the Center for Whale Research, told USA TODAY.
“It’s still happening,” he said Thursday evening. He said that he has observed the behavior before, but not for this length of time.
The organization says killer whales and dolphins show strong mother-offspring bonds and sometimes transport dead calves for up to a week.
Southern Resident killer whales are a clan of 76 orcas in imminent danger of extinction, the organization says.
Deborah Giles, science and research director for the nonprofit Wild Orca, told the Seattle Times that she’s observed similar behavior from orca whales for lesser amounts of time.
“It is horrible. This is an animal that is a sentient being. It understands the social bonds that it has with the rest of its family members,” she told the publication.
“(The mother) is bonded to (the calf) and she doesn’t want to let it go. It is that simple. She is grieving,” she said of the case she observed.
The Center for Whale Research says the situation for Southern Resident killer whales is dire. Three quarters of newborns in the past two decades have died, and no successful pregnancies have been observed in the past three years, the organization says.
The whales face three major challenges: toxins, ship traffic and a lack of food, especially chinook salmon. That food source is itself largely endangered, the Center for Whale Research says.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2v3PJZc