Orca that carried dead calf for 17 days gives birth to healthy new baby

A southern resident killer whale who carried her dead calf for two weeks in 2018 in a heart-wrenching display of mourning has once again given birth.

The new calf was spotted swimming alongside its mother in the U.S. waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Saturday, according to the Center for Whale Research, which is based in Washington state.

In a release on its website, the center described the calf as “healthy and precocious.” 

It’s believed the calf, known as J57, was born to mother J35 on Sept. 4.

Two years ago, J35 carried her dead calf for 17 days through 1,600 kilometres of Pacific Ocean, appearing to mourn the loss of her newborn in what scientists called a “tour of grief.”

J35 is the matriarch of J pod, one of three endangered groups of killer whales living off the coast of British Columbia and Washington state.

In July, it was discovered she was pregnant again.

J35 is the matriarch of of J pod, one of three groups of killer whales living off the coast of British Columbia and Washington state. Here she is seen swimming with her new calf, J57. (Dave Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research)

With this new calf, there are now believed to be 73 southern resident killer whales who live in three different pods.

The endangered whales have struggled in recent years. The southern residents primarily eat chinook salmon, which has become scarce.

Because of nutritional stress, many pregnancies fail and there is a 40 per cent mortality rate for young calves, according to the Center for Whale Research. 

“We hope this calf is a success story,” the center said Sunday. 

For more on the threats to the southern resident killer whales and the efforts to save them, check out CBC British Columbia’s original podcast Killers: J pod on the brink, hosted by Gloria Macarenko. 

Read more at CBC.ca