In a heartbreaking expression of maternal love not exclusively given to humans, an orca mom has been spotted swimming in the ocean gently nudging her dead baby calf to keep it afloat.
In a media release by the Center for Whale Research, whales along the British Columbia coastline are struggling to reproduce. The newborn whale was reported alive and swimming with its mother, J35 and other members of the J pod in mid morning on Tuesday. By the time the crew arrived to document the calf’s birth for long-term census for the United States and Canada, the calf had died.
“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 toward San Juan Island, USA. The mother continued supporting and pushing the dead baby whale throughout the day until at least sunset. A resident of San Juan Island near Eagle Cove reported: ‘At sunset, a group of 5-6 females gathered at the mouth of the cove in a close, tight-knit circle, staying at the surface in a harmonious circular motion for nearly 2 hours. As the light dimmed, I was able to watch them continue what seemed to be a ritual or ceremony. They stayed directly centered in the moonbeam, even as it moved. The lighting was too dim to see if the baby was still being kept afloat. It was both sad and special to witness this behavior. My heart goes out to J35 and her beautiful baby; bless it’s soul.”
Food shortages for the whales including endangered Chinook salmon has been cited as one of the main reasons the whales are not reproducing. This calf was only the first born off the West Coast in the last three years; from six to nine babies should be born. J35 has not produced a calf in the last three years when previously she had birthed several each year.
“The ultimate cause of the SRKW population decline and poor reproduction is food related: the primary prey species for these top marine predators is Chinook salmon, with most spawning populations also listed as “Endangered” and many already extinct. The American Fisheries Society in its landmark publication “Salmon 2100” has pointed out that changes in core policy drivers in our society are required if wild salmon are to survive this century. It follows that these same core policy changes are required to save the whales. Will that be the job of our leaders or the voters or a time-consuming task force to sift through all of the actions/inactions that have not worked? Hatchery salmon are inferior and not sustainable.”
Since the calf died, the pod has headed to the United States territory of San Juan Island.
Will our whales become extinct because of human greed? The Endangered Species Act is now being reconsidered by the Trump administration. The law has been around for the last 45 years dedicated to keeping plant and animal species from going extinct. Republicans and industry groups state it hurts economic growth.
“The first would end the practice of treating threatened species the same as endangered. This proposal says that threatened species could still get some of those protections as endangered, but it would be determined on a case-by-case basis. It won’t be de facto anymore. The second would allow the economic consequences of a species’ protection to be taken into consideration during a listing. The decision would still ultimately be determined by the best available science, but the cost of that would also be considered,” stated NPR News.
Rest in peace little one. We cry because you never had a chance to live.
(Photos of orca mom grieving for her baby by Michael Weiss, Center for Whale Research)
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