Mourning Orca Who Carried Dead Baby For 17 Days Seen Swimming With ‘Healthy New Calf’


2 Minutes Read

Baby J57 with mom Tahlequah (Photo: Katie Jones, Center for Whale Research) - Media Credit:

An orca who made headlines after carrying her dead baby for 17 days – in what was believed to be a mourning ritual – has been spotted swimming with a new calf.

Researchers say Tahlequah, who tragically lost her baby in 2018, has been seen with the baby ‘swimming vigorously alongside its mother’. 

The new baby, who has been called ‘J57’ by researchers, has one surviving sibling – ‘J47’ aka Notch, who was born in 2010. Tahlequah miscarried a calf in mid-2010, and then went on to lose her calf in 2018.

‘Tour of grief’

While researchers don’t know the exact date of birth, they have designated September 4, as as the animal’s dorsal fin was upright on this date.

“We have had comprehensive encounters with J pod in Haro Strait on September 1 and 3, 2020, at which times we monitored pregnant females J35 and J41 very carefully and saw that they had not yet given birth,” said the center. 

“On September 5, we followed up on a report from one of the PWWA whalewatchers that a very small calf was seen. Our researchers, Dave Ellifrit and Katie Jones, accompanied by guest veterinarian Dr. Sarah Bahan, quickly identified the mother as J35, Tahlequah.”

It added: “We know that it was not born today because its dorsal fin was upright, and we know that it takes a day or two to straighten after being bent over in the womb, so we assign its birthday as September 4, 2020. (Ergo gestation commenced in February 2019).


The Center added: “She was still capable of producing a live calf after an approximate eighteen-month gestation! Hooray! Her new calf appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life.

“Tahlequah was mostly separate from the other whales and being very evasive as she crossed the border into Canada, so we ended our encounter with her after a few minutes and wished them well on their way.”


Reports say Tahlequah’s story captivated so many people as it showed ‘evidence of grief in another species’ – or what the Center described as a ‘Tour of Grief’. 

Wildlife photographer Alena Ebeling-Schuld said: “Tahlequah in particular means a great deal to me.

“Her tour of grief was beyond impactful, telling the story to a wide audience not only of the plight of Southern Residents, but also of the complexity of animals’ emotions – something humans are so quick to disregard.”

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