Grieving Orca Mother Still Carrying Her Dead Calf. It's Been 16 Days

The killer whale's calf died less than an hour after being born. 16 days later, she still doesn't want to say goodbye

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Grieving Orca Mother Still Carrying Her Dead Calf. It's Been 16 Days

Killer whales carry their dead calves for a week or so. But this orca has left even scientists surprised.

About two weeks ago, a heartbreaking picture of an orca mother carrying her dead calf tugged on the heartstrings of the Internet. After patiently waiting for roughly 17 months, the killer whale gave birth to a baby girl near Victoria, British Columbia. Sadly though, less than an hour after being born, the calf died. Her mother, however, was not ready to let go. She was seen carrying her dead calf on her head for hours. It's now been 16 days and the orca mother still doesn't want to say goodbye.

"Maybe this is just her own way of just getting past the loss of another baby. She's probably lost two more in the past decade. It's got to be tragic for these animals to lose these babies, and it's happening at a record pace," senior scientist Ken Balcomb, who works at the Centre for Whale Research, which studies the Southern Resident whale population, told BBC.

It's reportedly not uncommon for killer whales to carry their dead calves for a week or so. However, this mother's actions have left scientists surprised as well.

"We've seen mother whales carry dead babies briefly, for parts of a day. We saw one a few years back for a couple days. But this sets a record," Mr Balcomb told BBC.

During the first three days of her calf's death, the orca swam with her pod but carried along her baby's nearly 400 pound body. 16 days later, the killer whale still hasn't given up on her baby.

"It's obvious what's happening. You cannot interpret it any other way. This is an animal that is grieving for its dead baby and she doesn't want to let it go. She's not ready," Deborah Giles, a killer whale biologist with the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology, told The Washington Post. She had observed J35 from a research boat.

According to The Washington Post, J35 is an orca from the southern resident killer whales population, which is critically endangered. "To lose a calf now, to lose another potential female that could add to the population is devastating," Giles said. "This is exactly the opposite of what we need to be happening," Mr Balcomb said.

The picture of the orca and her calf has moved many on the Internet. Ms Giles told The Washington Post the picture also acts as "reality check" for those making efforts to save the orca population.

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