Researchers are relieved to see the bereaved killer whale returning to typical behaviour. (AP: Centre for Whale Research)
An endangered killer whale that drew international attention as she carried her dead calf on her head for more than two weeks off Canada’s west coast is finally back to feeding and frolicking with her pod, researchers say.
- Researchers observed the killer whale chasing a school of salmon in Haro Strait west of San Juan Island
- The whale had been carrying its newborn calf since it died off Vancouver Island on July 24
- The region’s killer whales face extinction as no viable calves have been raised in the past three years
The Centre for Whale Research (CWR) in Washington state said it watched the killer whale, known as J35, chase a school of salmon in Haro Strait west of San Juan Island on Saturday afternoon (local time).
The whales have been struggling because of a lack of salmon, and J35’s calf died soon after it was born off Vancouver Island on July 24, researchers say.
“The baby’s carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother, who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas,” the CWR said in a statement at the time.
Killer whales have been known to stay with their dead babies for a week. (Supplied: Dave Ellifrit/Centre for Whale Research)
The mother carried the baby on her head for at least 17 days, in an image of grief that struck an emotional chord worldwide.
She finally abandoned the carcass as it decomposed.
Killer whales had previously been known to transport their dead calves for as long as a week, according to the CWR, which monitors the Southern Resident killer whale community.
CWR said the calf’s death underlined the dire state of the Southern Resident community, which faces extinction after failing to raise a viable calf in the past three years.
In the past two decades, 75 per cent of newborn calves have died, according to the CWR, which attributes the low reproduction rate to declining numbers of Chinook salmon, the staple diet of the killer whales.
CWR founder Ken Balcomb said he was immensely relieved to see J35 returning to typical behaviour.
The mother whale pushes the calf 24 hours after the newborn died. (Supplied: Ken Balcomb/Centre for Whale Research)