Killer whale mother finally lets dead newborn calf go, after 17 days

Tahlequah is no longer carrying her dead calf and appears to be vigorous and healthy as she swims with her pod in Haro Strait off San Juan Island on Saturday. Her ordeal of carrying her dead calf for at least 17 days and 1,000 miles is over

Dr. Martin Haulena, the chief veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium, said a one- or two-day "mourning period" is common in many cetacean species such as whales and dolphins, but the 17-day-long journey was distinctly odd.

Balcomb said he also saw J50 with her mother and brother on Saturday, along with NOAA researchers who were following her to collect prey remains and feces.

The center said she had been seen briefly two days before without the calf, but the sighting Saturday was confirmation that her "tour of grief" was at an end.

The mother is now surrounded by members of her clan, known as J pod, who stay to support her through the grieving process.

That was the beginning of a long funeral procession.

"She literally is pushing her baby to connect with it and, hope against hope - hoping that it will take a breath, which it will never do", biologist and wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin told CBSN last week.

Photos and video showing Tahlequah keeping the baby whale's body afloat soon after it died quickly went viral, especially after each passing day.

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So, when Tahlequah did not let her emaciated calf sink to the bottom of the Pacific, but rather balanced it on her head and pushed it along as she followed her pod, researchers thought they understood what was happening. People lost sleep thinking about the whale.

"No one really knows why moms carry their calves to begin with", said Haulena from his home in Point Roberts, Wash. But the bonds between mothers and calves are extremely strong. "Now we can confirm that she definitely has abandoned it".

Experts say each orca is crucial to the pod's survival. They are tracking the young whale - Scarlet - in an attempt to feed her antibiotic-laced salmon.

In that sense, maybe, Tahlequah's doomed calf did bring new hope to the pod, which had previously swam and struggled in near anonymity.

At the same time, the mother's obsession had become gravely concerning to researchers. Fortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case.

The Center for Whale Research in Washington state says it watched the orca, known as J35, chase a school of salmon in Haro Strait west of San Juan Island, between the USA mainland and Vancouver Island, on Saturday afternoon.

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