The Whale That Showed Us What Love Is

J-35, otherwise known as Tahlequah, is a beautiful 21-year-old whale who is part of the Southern Resident Killer Whales population. Her pod consists of 23 members, this is the second largest of the region. I have always been a lover of the water, oceans and the amazing creatures in it. July 24th 2018 was one of the greatest and worst days for the J pod. Tahlequah was pregnant with the pods first calf in 3 years, it was a great event for their species as their numbers have been dwindling. No one would have assumed what was going to happen next, her baby whale only explored the Pacific Ocean for 30 minutes before passing. It was a harsh reality of the world around us.

Over the course of 17 days, and 1,600+ KM, Tahlequah carried and pushed her baby calf through strong currents and waves along the pacific northwest coast. It was a heartbreaking event, many calling it her Tour Of Greif.  It is common for whales and a few other mammals to carry their loved ones for 2-3 days, but Tahlequah carried her calf for MUCH longer than ever observed before. There were times where her calf would slip away from her, and often sink because it was young and didn’t have blubber to keep it afloat. Instead of letting it sink away, she dove for it, grabbing its tail with her teeth and bringing it to the surface. This proves that she was struggling with the loss of her baby.

Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research

At the time I was living in Kelowna British Columbia, and I remember checking the news a few days after she had given birth. There were photos and stories about how Tahlequah was carrying her calf with her, many people concerned for her wellbeing. It was heartbreaking to see an animal mourn so deeply and I had never heard of this happening before. 

Over the course of her 17 day mourning process, she had the power to bring people from all over the globe together. We all watched, and hearts ached for her. The awareness that she brought was unbelievable. It didn’t matter what kind of background you had, where you lived, or how old you were, we all cared for Tahlequah and we all mourned with her during this time.

Photo by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

Having a background in Environmental Studies and Geography (hippy 100%) so this is an event that hit close to home for me. Often many people will comment on how animals do not have feelings or are not capable of an emotional connection. After reading the articles of Tahlequah, how could anyone believe that this orca mother was not mourning the loss of her calf? This was such a tragedy for the pod and the population of killer whales. There are only 75 whales left in the US and Canadian coasts. According to the data and ages of the whales left in these pods, they only have 5 more years left of viable breeding time, and if it doesn’t happen in the next 5 years then it won’t happen at all. 

Luckily Tahlequah didn’t suffer at all from her Tour of Grief, and was spotted on August 11th 2018 catching salmon with the rest of her pod. It is still not known what the cause of death was for her calf. It was unclear if she stopped carrying the calf by choice or if the remains deteriorated and washed away. The remains are now on the bottom of the ocean floor, unlikely to be recovered by researchers for a necropsy (animal autopsy). The decline in food for the orcas is a strong possibility for its death. Orcas depend on the Chinnuk salmon for a balanced diet but there has been a decline in this population due to overfishing, leaving food quantities low for this endangered species.

Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research

July 24th 2019 marks the one year anniversary of the beginning of Tahlequah’s Tour of Grief. I strongly recommend you inform people of the dangers that this species faces, and many others! There is so much we can do to try and save these beautiful animals. If you are interested I have provided some links of organizations that support research and the protection of the killer whales in this region. 

How you can help: http://sanjuans.org/2018/07/30/j35-what-we-can-do-to-help/

Adopt an Orca: https://whalemuseum.org/collections/adopt-an-orca

You can click HERE to check out the Whale Museum, where you can educate yourselves on each whale in the different pods, adopt whales, and even visit their museum if you are in the area!

Moral Of The Story: Killer Whales have feelings too! Do your part in helping protect our oceans.

Or as P says.. Whale Whale Whale

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