She waited patiently for about 17 months. Like many expectant mothers, she was looking forward to the day she gave birth to her new baby.
On Tuesday morning it was finally time. J35, a member of an endangered population of southern killer whales, was born near Victoria, British Columbia. It was a little girl. She was the first calf to be born alive in three years to the pod, which is known to visit the waters off the coast of Washington. At that moment, everything was surrounded by the family and swam from her mother's side.
Then the calf stopped moving and J35 experienced the worst horror of a mother. She watched her baby die less than an hour after birth.
But J35 was not ready to say goodbye.
She mourned for hours and carried the dead calf on her head as she swam, Ken Balcomb, founder and chief scientist of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, told the Washington Post. The hours turned into days, and on Thursday, she still saw her pushing her baby to the water.
"This is not unprecedented, but it is the longest that I personally saw," said Balcomb.
About After three days, J35 followed her pod and traveled to Vancouver before returning to San Juan on Thursday afternoon, Balcomb said. Every day she cut between 60 and 70 miles while working to keep her baby's 400 pounds body afloat.
What makes J35 is not easy, Deborah Giles, killer whale biologist at the University of Washington Conservation Biology Center, told The Washington Post.
"If you are a whale or a dolphin, it means you have to go to fetch this animal, as it sinks, bring it to the surface, hold your breath as long as you can and then basically throw your baby away from your head just to catch your breath, "said Giles, watching J35 from a research boat on Thursday.
J35 repeatedly made it while fighting a strong current Said Giles. She added that it was likely that the mother orca had not eaten in days.
Their devotion proves the strong bonds social animals, such as orcas, make with their offspring.
"It's real and raw," Giles said. "It's obvious what happens, you can not interpret it any differently, this is an animal mourning its dead baby, and she does not want to let it go, she's not ready."
This reaction is similar to many People feel when they lose a child, Giles said.
"That's part of what people pick up on, like 'God, I would feel the same way,'" she said, "If I had a baby who needed only a few breaths, I would Nor do they want to let go. "
This type of mourning behavior is not typical only for killer whales and has been exhibited by a variety of marine mammals, including Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales, according to a study published in the Journal of Mammology in 2016. On land are chimpanzees known to carry their bodies around with them.
While the death of the orca calf is a tragedy for her mother, the researchers are "devastated," Balcomb said.
The southern killer whale population is in the face According to a statement by the Center for Whale Research, which has been investigating the population for more than 40 years, the clan now has only 76 Wa le, from 98 in 1995, and many of its females will soon be too old to reproduce, Balcomb said. Orcas have a gestation period of 15 to 18 months, which means that mothers can only give birth every three to five years.
"This could be the last generation we see of the whales," said Balcomb. "Your reproductive life is about 25 years old and we have wasting 20 of those years just holding meetings and telephone conferences, writing reports and shaking hands."
The population's reproduction rates were bleak. In the past two decades, about 75 percent of newborns have not survived, say researchers. Since 2015, no pregnancies have produced viable progeny.
A new baby, especially a reproductive female, was exactly what the dwindling whale population needed.
"Losing a calf now, losing another potential woman, that could add to the population is devastating," said Giles. "This is exactly the opposite of what we have to do."
The whales face three major threats to survival: toxins, shipping, and lack of food, especially Chinook salmon, according to the Center for Whale Research. 19659028] There is evidence that the lack of food has influenced the reproductive success of the clan, Balcomb said. Researchers have not yet figured out what killed the baby of J35, but Balcomb believes that "mother's malnutrition is most likely."
In March, Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed an order to protect Orcas and Chinook salmon, both of which are the "signature species" of the state.
Southern killer whales got their name because they would be seen "practically every day" in the area, as opposed to more perishable pods, Balcomb said. In 2006, more than 500,000 people went on whale watching vessels, according to the 2014 NOAA technical memorandum on whale watching in Puget Sound. Every year, nearly 200,000 people visit Lime Kiln State Park on the island of San Juan to observe the whales by land, according to the memo.
While thousands are still flocking to see the whales, sightings are not always guaranteed. May was the first month in which no in-water killer whales were documented in inland waters, Giles said.
The image of J35 carrying the body of her calf is a "reality check" for those involved in rescuing the Orca population. she said.
"Heartbreaking is the only thing you can think of," she said. "It really breaks your heart, it's a real thing when they say your heart hurts, my heart hurt."