A MOTHER WHALE mourning the death of her newborn baby made headline news for her ‘unprecedented’ show of grief during the past two weeks.
The orca whale, known as Tahlequah (or J35), gave birth to her female baby on 24th July. Within half an hour, her daughter had died.
It was the first calf to be born to the pod in over 3 years.
For 17 days, Tahlequah carried her dead calf on her head in a mourning procession that drew international attention to the endangered species.
The bereaved mother swam for over 1600 kilometres with her dead child balanced on her nose as she followed her pod. When the body fell off her nose, Tahlequah would deep dive down to rescue the body and push it back up to the surface.
It was only when the calf’s body began to decompose that Tahlequah let the body sink to the bottom of the ocean.
Deborah Giles, a killer whale biologist with the University of Washington, said:
You cannot interpret it any other way, this is an animal that is grieving for its dead baby, and she doesn’t want to let it go. She’s not ready.
It’s common for human to anthropomorphize (attribute human form or personality to) animals, but decades of research has shown that whales are capable of empathy that can match and even exceed human empathy.
A neuroscientist who featured on Blackfish, a documentary about Seaworld’s treatment of Orca Whales, has said that the whales process emotions in a highly ‘sophisticated or complex’ way:
…when you look at behavior of dolphins and whales, especially in the wild, you see a level of social cohesion that is really unmatched in other mammals including the humans
At first scientists said that Tahlequah’s mourning of her calf was ‘rare’, but as the days rolled into weeks, they said it was ‘unprecedented’ show of grieving from the majestic creature.
People were in awe of the orca’s grieving.
The story about Tahlequah is heartbreaking. I can't believe she's kept her vigil going for 16 straight days. My heart breaks for her.— Litt gal fett valp (@silverwuffamute) August 9, 2018
Others were angry at what is happening whilst we are guardians of the planet.
This is Tahlequah.— dawn renee (@SteelCityDawn) August 5, 2018
Also known as J35.
Her pod has not had a successful birth in 3 years.
She’s been carrying her dead calf for ten days now.
Make straw jokes.
Make environment jokes.
Make global warming jokes.
We are killing Earth.#Orca pic.twitter.com/IlsE4Av7m3
#Tahlequah ‘s story is so powerful that it has scientists crying and seriously concerned in this unprecedented display of grief and empathy by the mother killer whale. We need to learn to respect animals and show more compassion towards them.— Fakhr-e-Alam (@falamb3) August 12, 2018
Tahlequah is a member of the critically endangered southern-resident orca whale population. In the past two decades, 40 orcas have been born into the group but 72 have died. With only 75 whales remaining, the pod is in danger of becoming extinct if the orcas don’t produce offspring soon.
Scientists report that a decease of wild salmon in the area has meant that the pod is malnourished. The salmon that is available to eat has been polluted which means that the orcas are being slowly poisoned. The whales are also being deafened by sonar and boat noise in the sea.
There is worry for the youngest member of the pod, Scarlet. Her skull is visible, a condition known as ‘peanut-head syndrome’ which means she is slowly starving. Scientists are hoping to intervene and give her anti-biotic laced salmon.
It’s only been two weeks since Tahlequah’s calf died. Now Scarlet, one of the remaining 75 Southern Resident orcas is dying of starvation, her skull is visible and she has little time left. Female orcas can live to 100- she’s 3. We have failed to protect these beautiful creatures pic.twitter.com/y5QML7a5x9— jewlz (@jewiwee) August 7, 2018
The good that has come out Tahlequah’s immense ‘tour of grief’ is that the profile of the majestic pod has been raised. You can donate to help the pod here.
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