Killer Whale Who Grieved Her Dead Calf For 17 Days Is Pregnant Again

by : Emily Brown on : 29 Jul 2020 13:38
Killer Whale Who Grieved Her Dead Calf For 17 Days Is Pregnant AgainKiller Whale Who Grieved Her Dead Calf For 17 Days Is Pregnant AgainNOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center/SR3/SEA

The world shared in a killer whale’s grief when she carried her dead calf around for 17 days, but the sea creature is now at the centre of some good news because she’s expecting a new baby.


Tahlequah – or J35, as researchers call her – lost her calf just half an hour after giving birth on July 25, 2018, but the mother refused to let go and continued to balance the body on her forehead as she followed her pod.

Marine biologists following the whale became worried about her mental and physical health, but after 17 days of grieving, the mother was finally seen without her calf.

Two years on, and Tahlequah is now one of several pregnant killer whales monitored by the nonprofit SR3, which recently finished recording drone images of three different pods.


Tahlequah’s baby is still a ‘long way away’, according to scientists John Durban, senior scientist of Southall Environmental Associates, and Holly Fearnbach, marine mammal research director of SR3, but the mum will need luck on her side when it comes to giving birth and keeping her baby alive, the Seattle Times reports.

The gestation period for orcas is typically 18 months, and families stick together for life, but southern resident whales such as Tahlequah are struggling to survive. Southern resident orcas are down to a population of just 72, and most pregnancies are not successful.

The calf that Tahlequah carried two years ago would have been the first for the whales in three years. The southern residents have since had two more calves, both of which thankfully survived.

Fearnbach and Durban stressed that humans can help contribute to the whales’ survival by respecting their space and giving them peace and quiet to allow them to use sound to hunt.

In a press release, the researchers explained:

Studies by our colleagues at the University of Washington have shown that these reproductive failures are linked to nutrition and access to their Chinook salmon prey.

So, we hope folks on the water can give the Southern Residents plenty of space to forage at this important time.

A number of pregnant whales have been identified in all 3 Southern Resident pods. It's critical that they are given plenty of space during this important time. https://www.sealifer3.org/news

Posted by SR³ – Sealife Response, Rehabilitation & Research on Sunday, July 26, 2020


The scientists are concerned about Tahlequah’s upcoming arrival as she already has one offspring, J47, to care for.

Durban commented:

We are concerned if she has a calf, will she be able to look after herself and the calf and J47, too? There has been a lot of talk I am not sure a lot has changed for the whales.

SR3 shared photos online of Tahlequah and L72, another pregnant orca, with aerial images showing how their bodies had changed between September and July.

Hopefully Tahlequah will have a happier ending to her pregnancy this time, helping both her family and the entire killer whale population to grow.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Animals, calf, J35, Killer Whale, Now, Orca, Pod, SR3, Tahlequah


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    Tahlequah, the orca who carried her dead calf for 17 days, is pregnant again