Orca's 'tour of grief' over after carrying dead calf for weeks

It’s heartbreaking’ Killer whale continues carrying dead calf for ‘unprecedented’ length of mourning

It’s heartbreaking’ Killer whale continues carrying dead calf for ‘unprecedented’ length of mourning

According to a report from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Tahlequah was spotted pushing around her dead calf in July 24.

An audio recording from earlier this month apparently featured the mother's "mournful and prominent" calls, Q13 Fox reported.

A Southern Resident orca who carried the corpse of her calf for at least 17 days in mourning has released it.

"The ordeal of J35 carrying her dead calf for at least seventeen days and [1600km] is now over, thank goodness", researcher Ken Balcomb said on Twitter.

Researchers had anxious J35, who was last spotted with her dead calf Wednesday, was not eating properly and was spending too much energy pushing the corpse.

So, when Tahlequah did not let her emaciated calf sink to the bottom of the Pacific, but rather balanced it on her head and pushed it along as she followed her pod, researchers thought they understood what was happening. She was no long carrying her baby.

But on Saturday experts confirmed she had dropped the calf.

Photos and video showing Tahlequah keeping the baby whale's body afloat soon after it died quickly went viral, especially after each passing day.

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"Her tour of grief is now over and her behaviour is remarkably frisky".

Aside from the emotional impact, this behaviour can have physical consequences too, but new telephoto images taken by the Centre for Whale Research reveal Tahlequah appears to be in good physical condition, with no evidence of 'peanut head' skull deformations incurred by the relentless pushing and not enough food.

She finally abandoned the carcass as it decomposed. Researchers attribute the decline to a lack of Chinook salmon, as well as increased pollution, vessel traffic and noise.

Balcomb said he also saw J50 with her mother and brother on Saturday, along with NOAA researchers who were following her to collect prey remains and feces.

"Killer whales and dolphins have been known to support and transport their dead calves for as long as a week - a testament to the amazingly strong mother/offspring bond and caring", said the centre.

In addition to tugging at heartstrings, the calf's loss was a major blow to the local endangered killer whales' population, which has just 75 orcas.

"The population (of orcas) is both Canadian and American in terms of moving back and forth, so it's been a real coordination between governments, NGOs, and also the research community", he said.

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