After more than two weeks and 1,500 kilometres, an apparent mourning ritual by an endangered orca has come to an end.
J35, known to some as Talequah, was spotted near San Juan Island on Saturday without her dead calf for the first time in at least 17 days.
Her calf was born and died on the same day, July 24.
The endangered southern resident killer whale had been keeping the carcass afloat, and pushing it with her as she travelled with her pod.
That had raised concerns among some scientists about her health and well-being, particularly since it was interfering with her feeding.
But Ken Balcomb with the Centre for Whale Research said J35 appears both healthy and “frisky.”
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“She doesn’t look to be nutritionally impaired, she’s high energy, and she doesn’t appear to have lost a significant amount of weight, so I think she’s okay,” he said.
According to the centre, there had also been reports “from brief sightings by whale-watchers” two days ago of J35 without her calf in the Georgia Strait near Vancouver.
It added that the carcass likely sank to the bottom of the Salish Sea, and researchers may not get a chance to perform a necropsy.
Balcomb said that from his perspective, there was a clear message in J35’s performance.
“You know, we’ve been saying for about 20 years now that salmon restoration is essential to this population’s recovery,” he said.
“And J35 pushing her baby for a thousand miles past the cities of the northwest kind of tells the story better than we can.”
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Orcas as a species are not endangered, but J35 is a member of an endangered sub-population known as the southern resident killer whales. Just 75 of the animals remain.
Orca calf mortality is naturally quite high, ranging from 50 to 75 per cent, but Balcomb said it appears to be getting worse. The last successful birth by a southern resident was in 2015.
A joint U.S.-Canadian effort by scientists and veterinarians remains underway to save another critically ill orca in the southern resident J-pod.
J50, also known as “Scarlet,” appears emaciated and officials are concerned the three-and-a-half-year-old has a serious infection.
A team was able to deliver a dose of antibiotics by dart on Thursday, and collect a breath sample which is currently being analyzed.
Scientists say she’s particularly important to the survival of the population because of her young age and calfbearing potential.
— With files from the Canadian Press