The famous orca whale who grieved her dead calf for 17 days back in 2018 has since welcomed a new calf!
Tahlequah, also known as J-35, gave birth on Friday, Sept. 4, according to the Center for Whale Research. They added how the baby whale “appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life.”
Based on the approximate 18-month gestation period, research revealed that Tahlequah became pregnant back in February 2019. The team identified that the whale was expecting again back in July.
“Tahlequah was mostly separate from the other whales and being very evasive as she crossed the border into Canada, so we ended our encounter with her after a few minutes and wished them well on their way,” researchers said.
The mother whale had made worldwide headlines back in the summer of 2018 when she embarked on the coined “Tour of Grief,” swimming her with her calf who had died just 30 minutes after birth. It was alleged that Tahlequah traveled about 1,000 miles with her pod, her late newborn in tow.
“We hope this calf is a success story,” said researchers. “Regrettably, with the whales having so much nutritional stress in recent years, a large percentage of pregnancies fail, and there is about a 40 percent mortality for young calves.”
Of a group of orcas that were listed as endangered in 2005, Tahlequah is part of the Southern Resident whales that resides in the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The orcas make up three different pods, which researchers have dubbed J, K and L.
John Durban and Holly Fearnbach, scientists with the Southall Environmental Associates and SR3, discovered that Tahlequah was pregnant using drone imaging.
A photo of Tahlequah from that same month compared to one in September of last year revealed her middle notably enlarged. The whale’s second pregnancy was not guaranteed — as a third of the pregnancies among the Southern Residents don’t make it, according to a study out of the University of Washington.
“Lack of prey, increased toxins and vessel disturbance have been listed as potential causes of the whale’s decline,” the study, published in 2017, said. In addition, Chinook salmon (the orca’s main food source) is also endangered.
Climate change along with pollution are the biggest threats to marine animals according to the National Wildlife Federation. Another whale gave birth last May among the Southern Residents population, which the center for Whale Research called a “very welcome addition” due to the struggling population.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.