Sixteen days after its birth, J-35 was still keeping her dead calf's body afloat. The Southern Resident killer whale whose calf died within half an hour of birth, was observed Wednesday, August 8, 2018 by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) researchers in Canadian waters. Update: She was observed with her calf on Thursday, August 9.
DFO photo of J35 pushing her calf on Aug. 8, 2018. Photo by Sara Tavares, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
J35 pushing her dead calf July 25, 2018 - 24 hours after calf's death. Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research
The three pods - J, K and L - that comprise the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population have only 75 members left. In a teleconference Thursday, August 9, reporters asked about J-35's condition.
Dawn Noren, a Research Fishery Biologist at NOAA NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center said, "From an energetics perspective if she was pushing a calf will be a drag in front of her, it could increase her energy expenditure and also could slow her down a bit. Potentially will be reducing her foraging time. Maybe other pod members have been helping her and she has taken some food. Concerned about potential reduction in foraging."
Noren said, "Pregnant cetacean's blubber have higher lipids. She may have been prepped for incurring extra costs for lactation so her body condition may have been a bit better."
Asked if there were any plans to take the dead calf away from J-35, DFO Research Scientist Sheila Thornton said, "The carcass is surprisingly intact. Removing the calf would be a very, very difficult decision.Would have to take many factors into consideration. It is not on the table at this time."
She noted the length of time the mother has been carrying her dead calf. "The duration is unprecedented. Many species undertake this sort of behavior. You can look at that as mourning behavior. These are very intelligent animals."
Killer whales in general can fast for four weeks. Other members of J-pod may be feeding J-35.
There are no plans at this time by NOAA to take any action concerning J-35.