An orca who made headlines around the world when her calf died in 2018 is pregnant again.
Known as Tahlequah, or J35, her calf died only 30 minutes after it was born in July 2018.
The calf’s lifeless body was carried on her mother’s nose through the Salish Sea for the next 17 days, travelling more than 1,000 miles before J35 let it go.
But now the orca is pregnant again, almost two years to the day that she lost her calf.
And she’s not the only one.
Scientists John Durban, senior scientist of Southall Environmental Associates, and Holly Fearnbach, marine mammal research director for the nonprofit SR3, have been studying drone photos taken at a safe distance of what is known as the southern resident killer whale pods — part of a population that’s been listed as endangered in Canada and the U.S.
Their current population is listed at only 73 whales.
The population consists of three pods – dubbed J, K and L – and Durban and Fearnbach found there are pregnant whales in all three pods.
However, this is not unusual, according to research, and the majority of recent pregnancies have not resulted in successful births.
“Studies by our colleagues at the University of Washington have shown that these reproductive failures are linked to nutrition and access to their Chinook salmon prey, so we hope folks on the water can give the Southern Residents plenty of space to forage at this important time,” Durban and Fearnbach said in a release.
“With such a small population, every successful birth is hugely important for recovery.”
The gestation period for orcas is usually 18 months.
“We’re very excited about it,” Lance Barrett-Lennard, director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at Ocean Wise told Global News.
“When we see females that have got this pear shape then we know that they’re pregnant and we can tell that at about five months or so.”
READ MORE: From 2017 — There were 98 southern resident killer whales in 1995, and there are 76 now
Barrett-Lennard thinks that J35 is about six months pregnant so the baby is expected late this year or next year.
“Typically a female killer whale gets pregnant about once every four years, they have a very slow reproductive rate, but if they lose a calf, as she did, then they can breed a bit more quickly so this is about the earliest we would have expected to see her pregnant,” Barrett-Lennard added.
“Hopefully she carries it through full term.”
Southern resident killer whales have been spotted carrying dead calves on their heads before, according to Taylor Shedd, program coordinator with the San Juan Islands-based organization Soundwatch.
But it’s still a mystery why the whales do this, he added.
“A lot of us think it’s probably grieving.