A mother orca who carried her dead calf around in the waters off British Columbia and Washington State is having another calf, scientists said.
Tahlequah’s apparent display of grief with the refusal to let her dead calf go drew attention from around the world, as people watched footage of her swimming.
She carried the dead calf for 17 days after scientists first noticed the calf was dead and through 1,000 miles.
Scientists John Durban, senior scientist of Southall Environmental Associates and Holly Fearnbach, marine mammal research director for the nonprofit SR3, recently finished recording drone images of the southern residents and discovered pregnancies amid the J, K and L pods.
The recordings were done as part of a long-term study of the body condition of the endangered southern resident orcas that frequent Puget Sound. The photography is done non-invasively by a remote-activated drone flown more than 100 feet over the whales.
The pregnancies are not unusual, so the scientists don’t usually announce them. But Tahlequah’s pregnancy carries a special meaning for a region as thousands of people watched what some attributed as grief.
The southern residents are struggling to survive, and most pregnancies for these embattled whales are not successful. Tahlequah’s baby was the first for the whales in three years.
The southern residents have since had two more calves, in J pod and L pod. Both are still alive.
Whales use sound to hunt, and boat disturbance and underwater vessel noise is one of the three main threats to their survival, in addition to lack of adequate, available salmon and pollution.
Just as important as the number of salmon in the sea — especially chinook, the southern resident orcas’ preferred food — is the salmon that southern residents can readily access in their traditional fishing areas.
“Just like human fisherman that don’t just go drop a hook in the ocean,” Durban said. “They have their favorite places.
“They are amazing societies that pass culture down from generation to generation. They are creatures of habit.”