Grieving orca Tahlequah finally drops her dead calf after carrying it on her forehead for 17 days for 1,000 miles

  • Grieving orca J35 also known as Tahlequah has finally let go of her dead calf
  • For 17 days and for 1,000 miles the mother carried her young child on forehead
  • She was spotted on Saturday looking ‘vigorous and healthy’ without the calf
  • It was the first calf born to this species of endangered orca in almost three years 
  • Experts say she’s lost two other offspring since giving birth to a male calf in 2010
  • Researchers monitoring it say calf died about half an hour after it was born 
  • She did not show signs of malnutrition on Saturday and managed to remain with her pod despite falling behind during her grieving period  
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The endangered orca who has been clinging onto her dead calf for more than two weeks and swimming for 1,000 miles, has finally let go of her baby.

The 20-year-old mother, known as J35 or Tahlequah, broke the hearts of watchers across the globe who were touched by the story of the grieving whale. 

On Saturday she was spotted looking ‘vigorous and healthy’ following 17 days of swimming with her dead calf on her forehead in the Haro Strait off of the Washington coast.

‘J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy,’ Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research, said to The Seattle Times. 

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Grieving orca J35 also known as Tahlequah has finally let go of her dead calf, pictured above in foreground on Saturday swimming with her pod in Haro Strait off San Juan Island 

The endangered orca clung onto her dead calf for a total of 17 days swimming for 1,000 miles precariously balancing her newborn on her forehead. The calf died July 24, pictured above

Experts at the Whale Museum on San Juan Island have been monitoring the whale since her calf died and say she was spotted ‘vigorous and healthy’ without the calf Saturday, pictured above grieving on July 24

The researchers say the orca and the rest of her pod are going through ‘a deep grieving process’. The mother has been seen propping the dead newborn on her forehead and trying to keep it bobbing near the surface in the waters off the coast of Victoria, British Columbia

‘The ordeal of her carrying a dead calf for at least seventeen days and 1,000 miles is now over, thank goodness,’ he added. 

He says she’s lost two other offspring since she gave birth to a male calf in 2010 and losing her last calf ‘may have been emotionally hard on her’.

‘She is alive and well and at least over that part of her grief. Today was the first day that I for sure saw her. It is no longer there,’ Balcomb said. 

Despite her 17-day grieving period she showed no sides of ‘peanut head’ or malnutrition in an orca. Balcomb added that ‘she’s been eating’ as a sign that she’s healthy and doing well. 

She nearly lost track of her pod after falling behind during her time of distress. 

Orcas are highly sociable creatures that live in large groups known as pods, if she lost her group and became isolated, she would have suffered potentially life-threatening food shortage, experts warned.   

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Researchers have been monitoring the activity of a grieving mother orca over the last week, as she tows her dead calf’s body through the Puget Sound, off British Columbia. The whale has now been carrying the body for seven days throughout the region, after it died July 24

Four and a half-year-old J50, also known as Scarlet and pictured above, was found emaciated and sick while with her mother on Wednesday and is being nursed back to health 

Tahlequah was last spotted by researchers on Wednesday still carrying her dead Yong child off the coast of Victoria, British Columbia, according to Michael Milstein. 

The Puget Sound calf was the first in three years to be born to the dwindling population of endangered southern resident killer whales.

There are only 75 of the mammals left.  

She’s remained under the watchful eye of experts at the Whale Museum on San Juan Island following the death of her calf last month. 

‘The baby was so newborn it didn’t have blubber. It kept sinking, and the mother would raise it to the surface,’ said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, which closely tracks individual whales. 

‘It is horrible. This is an animal that is a sentient being,’ Deborah Giles, science and research director for the nonprofit Wild Orc said. 


Whales and dolphins have been spotted ‘carrying’ or caring for their dead young multiple times.

These creatures could be mourning or they have failed to accept or recognise that the offspring or companion has died.

Scientists still do not know if aquatic mammals truly recognise death and are looking to carry out more research on this issue.

In 2016, scientists found evidence that whales and dolphins hold ‘vigils’ for their dead.

They analysed several cases where mammals clung to the bodies of dead compatriots, and kept vigil over a dead companion.

At the time, they said the most likely explanation was mourning.

The study compiled observations from 14 events.

They found mothers often carried their dead young above the water, often flanked by friends.

In many cases, the dead offspring were decomposed, indicating they had been held for a long time.

‘It understands the social bonds that it has with the rest of its family members.’

‘(The mother) is bonded to (the calf) and she doesn’t want to let it go. It is that simple. She is grieving,’ she added.  

Whales and dolphins are known to express grief and even hold ‘vigils’ for their dead by clinging onto the lifeless bodies of their offspring for days to keep them safe from predators. Tahlequah’s display was unprecedented, striking an emotional chord worldwide. 

Soon after Tahlequah made headlines with her child carrying display, vets raced to save the life of another starving calf. 

Four and a half-year-old J50, also known as Scarlet, was found emaciated and sick while with her mother on Wednesday.

On Thursday vets were monitoring the calf saying her condition is better than expected but she is terribly thin and severely malnourished. 

‘The reason J35 lost her baby and the others are losing their babies is there is not enough salmon. Hopefully we will do something about that,’ Balcomb said.  

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