A dead calf rests on her nose, an orca has been mourning in the Pacific Northwest for more than three days.
The calf died Tuesday morning, half an hour after his birth off the coast of Victoria, British Columbia, to a 20-year-old whale named J35. It was the first calf known since 2015 as "Southern Resident Killer Whales" to the local population.
"I think she just mourns, is not ready to let the calf go at this time, why, why?" Said Ken Balcomb, founder and chief scientist of the San Juan Center for Whale Research, which has published the Tracked population for more than 40 years.
Orcas have complex social circles, use vocal communication and express emotions such as sadness. The whales sometimes carry the bodies of their dead calves on the water surface – another whale was seen for a few hours in 2010 in the Pacific Northwest.
But J35's sad journey, which started near Victoria and took her 150 miles around the San Juan Islands and Vancouver, has continued researchers for an unusually long time. It has become a devastating symbol, and an eerily inspired for the plight of the whales.
"We know it happens, but this is almost on tour, as if it just would not let go," Mr. Balcomb said
J35 was seen near the southern end of the San Juan Islands on Friday morning he. She has largely balanced the dead calf on her nose.
"Sometimes she bites the pinball machine and pulls it up," he said. "The calf sinks because it does not have enough of a layer of bacon and it sinks in. It dips and picks it up again and brings it to the surface."
Mr. The Balcomb team began in 1976 with the observation of the orca population in the area. They numbered about 70 at that time, after about 50 were removed from the wild to become attractions in marine parks.
About 20 years later, following the introduction of federal protection measures, the number of whales in the population peaked at about 100. Then it began to decline again, and today there are still 75.
Given this figure Every year, about nine babies should be born, Mr. Balcomb said. Instead, no calves have been born since 2015.
"As soon as they stop reproducing, they may swim around for fifty years, but there will be no babies," he said. "Functionally, they will be extinct."
Jan Ohlberger, a researcher at the University's School of Water and Fishery Sciences from Washington, said the orcas prefer the larger chinook salmon, which is richer in energy but has steadily declined over the last few decades.
He said it could be due to overfishing or climate. "We do not really know," he said. "There are a lot of hypotheses about it."
Conservationists have said that whale population has also declined due to inbreeding, noise pollution from shipping and spillage of municipal and industrial waste and other chemicals into the water.
There are other potential threats on the horizon. A recent agreement to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which transports oil from Alberta to British Columbia, would multiply tanker traffic through the orcas' habitat and expose them to more noise and potential spillage. The construction of this pipeline is expected to begin in August.
In May, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington called the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, a group of state, tribal, provincial and federal officials, to protect the region's orcas.
"The loss of a newborn orca calf from our endangered southern killer whale population underscores what is at stake to save these iconic, beautiful animals from total disappearance," inslee tweeted Week
Mr. Balcomb, who sits on the governor's task force, said the situation of J35 is a rallying point for efforts to protect the whales
"Everyone is devastated," he said. "That's very, very dramatic, sad, daunting."