As of August 11, J35 – the orca mother known around the world for carrying her deceased calf for 17 days straight – is no longer carrying the corpse. According to a statement from the Center for Whale Research (CWR), she’s been seen vigorously chasing a school of salmon with her pod-mates, and the deceased is nowhere to be seen.
Noting that she had been carrying the calf for 1,610 kilometers (1,000 miles), they explain that her “tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky.” Based on telephoto images, J35 – whose health was beginning to be called into question during her "record-setting" procession – appears to be fine physically. She’s showing no signs of emaciation, implying her nutritional intake is sound.
Scientists planned to obtain the calf after she had abandoned it in order to ascertain why it had perished just 30 minutes after it had been born, way back on July 24. Sadly, there’s little chance of this happening now.
“The carcass has probably sunk to the bottom of these inland marine waters of the Salish Sea, and researchers may not get a chance to examine it for necropsy,” the CWR report adds.
As explained here, the Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) population of orcas – consisting of J, K, and L pods – are in dire straits thanks to a wide range of largely human-driven factors. According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), these include environmental pollution, a reduction in the quantity and quality of prey, and physical and acoustic disturbances.
Such disturbances are set to increase: As noted by The New York Times, the near-future expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline is set to send seven times the amount of oil tanker traffic right through their habitat.
Whatever the causes of death or illness of various specific orcas, plenty of concern here relates to the increasing sparsity of Chinook salmon in the region, the orca’s primary food source. Climate change, overfishing, and habitat loss have pushed multiple species of salmon into the threatened and endangered columns.