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Orca Mother Grieves Dead Calf More Than Two Weeks and Counting

12 August 2018

Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale research scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said they'll often see the southern residents with poor body conditions at the start of the summer, but they improve over the season as they feed on chinook salmon. "It's very hard to say, but certainly they're very intelligent animals and the loss of this animal is quite profound for both the (killer whales) and I think for everyone who witnesses this".

This is the latest troubling sign for a population already at its lowest in more than three decades. 16 days later, the killer whale still hasn't given up on her baby.

"You can look at as mourning behaviour; there's a lot of different theories out there".

According to Dr Giles, the other members of the family knew J35 was pregnant due to their sonar, which the animals also use to communicate with one another.

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Michael Milstein, a spokesman with NOAA Fisheries, told KIRO that researchers with Fisheries and Ocean Canada also spotted another member of the same pod on Wednesday.

Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in the United States, said removing the calf, in order to encourage the whale to forage, is not an option.

One thing that is certain, Noren said, is that the work of pushing the calf day after day through the water adds physical effort to her burden of loss.

The orcas are distinct from other killer whales because they eat salmon rather than marine mammals.

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For now, researchers and veterinarians working to treat J50 will continue to monitor J35, looking closely at her for skin lesions, any changes in the way she swims or surfaces or major changes in her breath, which could indicate that she is metabolizing lipids.

The plan on Thursday was to provide emergency assistance for the whale, with a visual medical assessment, as well as a shot of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

The tweet says the next step is to decide if trial feeding of J50 should proceed, although it says that will depend on the location of the pod, as well as water and weather conditions. The whale could then be given live salmon dosed with medication. However, Hanson said, conditions have to be just right to do so. However, if J50 is off by herself, quietly resting or foraging, that could present an opportunity. "The feeling is it's quite urgent given the whale's condition". J-pod is part of a larger subset of orcas known as the Southern Residents.

"The connections between these animals are very strong, and to remove one from her familial group would have serious repercussions", she explained.

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Experts have been watching the young whale lose weight since June and they took the novel action in an effort to prevent the loss of more reproductive potential within the population. The only problem is, they need to figure out how to do so without getting the orca used to people or boats, something which would ultimately end up interfering with the animal's ability to survive in the wild.

Orca Mother Grieves Dead Calf More Than Two Weeks and Counting