Dhruvika writes on sustainable practices in various sectors for BuzzOnEarth. Get in touch with her at dhruvika@buzzonearth.com. Sometimes she reads her emails too.

The loss of her young one might be the most heartbreaking and traumatic event in a mother’s life. The behaviour is observed not only in humans but also holds true for animal kingdom evident by an orca spotted near Vancouver Island dragging her dead calf along for 5 days now.

On Tuesday, an orca gave birth to a female calf. Both the mother and her calf were seen swimming together but the tragedy struck after a few hours when the baby calf stopped moving and had died. The reason is still unknown.

The mother Orca was named J35 by researchers. After the heartbreaking event, the pod abandoned the area, but J35 did not leave her newborn behind. She has been dragging the corpse along with the pod, pushing and carrying it on her head and not letting it sink. On Saturday, she still hadn’t let go of the dead body.

The Center for Whale Research told the Guardian, “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 mother continued supporting and pushing the dead baby whale throughout the day until at least sunset.”

The Orca with her calf’s body. Photograph: Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research

The behaviour is not unusual in whales. Some whales and dolphins are known to have carried their dead newborns for a whole week. And Orcas are extremely dedicated mothers. After giving birth, the mother orcas don’t sleep and eat for almost a month to protect their calves from predators. Moreover, the calf needs to swim constantly for a month to build its muscles and the mother accompanies its baby.

But orcas are threatened. They are listed as an endangered species. The reported event involves the southern resident orcas whose number is on a decline with only 75 remain in the seas.

The survival rate of the calves is only 75%. The orcas don’t have many predators. The reason for the decline of southern resident orcas is linked to the fall in their basic prey, the Chinook salmon. With the increase in toxicity of oceans, the orcas’ milk often leads to poisoning in baby calves. This could be a possible reason for the death.

The orcas are highly sociable creatures. They live in pods. The female orca selects her male partner very carefully and gives birth only to a child which remains with her mother for a very long period. That results in a very strong between the members of an orca pod.
An orca has a lifespan similar to humans and they also have menopause. Their gestation period of almost 17 months and they only give birth only after 3 to 5 years.

The pictures of the event have been much talked about on the internet throwing light on the tragic event. Many are sharing the grief of the orca mother. But we need more than that. Today, it’s only a calf, a few decades later, we might be grieving the loss of the entire species.

Featured Image Credit: Michael Weiss/Center for Whale Research



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