The stunning, devastating, weekslong journey of an orca and her dead calf

Tahlequah is no longer carrying her dead calf and appears to be vigorous and healthy as she swims with her pod in Haro Strait off San Juan Island on Saturday. Her ordeal of carrying her dead calf for at least 17 days and 1,000 miles is over

"J35 vigorously chased a school of salmon with her pod-mates in mid-Haro Strait in front of the Center for Whale Research for a half mile", they said.

The whales have been struggling because of a lack of salmon, and J35's calf died soon after birth on July 24.

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

Dr. Martin Haulena, the chief veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium, said a one- or two-day "mourning period" is common in many cetacean species such as whales and dolphins, but the 17-day-long journey was distinctly unusual.

Researchers said J35 towed the calf for almost 1,000 miles over a span of 17 days.

The calf is believed to have died the same day. She is no longer carrying her baby, and she looks healthy.

The solo appearance marks the only confirmed occasion observers have seen Tahlequah without the deceased calf since the infant was born, ending a heartbreaking, record-setting haul in which the mother pushed the limp baby girl along for an estimated 1,000 miles (about 1,600 km).

Orcas, also called killer whales, are highly social, and this pod was spotted Friday afternoon near Vancouver, British Columbia.

In circumstances like this, orcas are known to nudge along perished newborns for up to a week, preventing them from sinking by repeatedly propping them up on their foreheads in a desperate bid to keep them with the pod. "And now we can confirm that she definitely has abandoned it".

The centre said the carcass likely sank to the bottom of the Salish Sea, and researchers may not get a chance to perform a necropsy. The whales depend on Chinook salmon - which have been in dramatic decline in recent years - for food.

J35, also known as Tahlequah, was spotted by officials of Fisheries and Oceans Canada while they were searching for another of the 75 southern resident killer whales, labelled an endangered species in both Canada and the United States.

These orcas are facing a real threat of extinction, with no successful pregnancies in the last three years.

It was a journey of love, driven by a mother's loss, stretching across a thousand miles of ocean as the world watched and wondered.



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