Researchers say an endangered orca's "tour of grief" is over after she spent almost three weeks towing her dead calf around the Pacific Ocean.
Tahlequah, aka the orca mother J35, has finally surrendered her deceased newborn calf, after carrying her lifeless body for seventeen straight days in an arduous display of animal grief and denial that made headlines around the world.
The centre said whale-watchers near Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, had reported seeing Tahlequah without her calf's body last week, but Saturday (local time) was the first time researchers were able to confirm those reports.
Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb said it's "unprecedented" for an orca to have gone for so long.
Researchers said the whales, who are known for mourning their dead, had been helping the mother to carry the calf.
Another struggling female in the same pod - J50, also known as Scarlet - was shot with antibiotics to fight an infection, since scientists worry that she has been losing a frightening amount of weight.
"Her tour of grief is now over and her behaviour is remarkably frisky".
Jenny Atkinson, executive director of The Whale Museum, told Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson that Tahlequah's grieving period was unusually long.
"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", the CWR said in a statement at the time. "She carried this for 17 months before it was born", Atkinson said. Her emotional bond is simply too strong. The carcass likely sunk to the bottom of the waters of the Salish Sea, according to the center.
August 11, 2018 J35 update: "The ordeal of J35 carrying her dead calf for at least seventeen days and 1,000 miles is..."
Regrettably, researchers say about 75% of newborns in the recent two decades following designation of the Southern Resident killer whale population as "endangered" have not survived, and 100% of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce viable offspring.