Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes says she's never covered a story quite like this one.

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One reader composed a song. Researchers broke down in tears, and elected officials privately said they were losing sleep and unable to function. I’ve received poems by email and long messages from readers sharing intensely private grief.

The plight of Tahlequah, the mother whale carrying her dead calf day after day, has moved people from around the world.

She’s carried the calf hundreds of miles, through currents, and may not be eating. All the way around the San Juan Islands at least once. To British Columbia’s Fraser River and back at least twice.

I saw her Sunday, and witnessed the briefest glimpse of the calf, a tiny flash of white as she pushed the baby in front of her through the water.

An orca mother grieves

Day 10: NOAA plans ‘outside the box’ response to save J pod orca

Day 9: A mother orca’s dead calf and the grief felt around the world

Day 8: After long search, researchers find orca still clinging to her dead calf

Day 7: Grieving mother orca falling behind family

Day 6: Orca whale continued grieving ritual for a sixth day

Day 5: Orca mother continues to carry dead calf as family stays close by

Day 4: ‘We won’t give up as long as she doesn’t’

Day 3: For 3rd day, grieving orca carries dead calf in water

Day 2: Orca whale continues to carry her dead calf into a second day

Day 1: Southern-resident killer whales lose newborn calf


Listen | Seattle Times whale tracker Lynda Mapes on grieving orca

Her orca family was close around her, taking turns staying by her side.

I’ve been a reporter at The Seattle Times more than 20 years and not experienced a story quite like this one. Uncanny in its timing, placing the difficulty of a beloved family of animals in front of people for all to see, day after day.

In a world that quickly moves on.

Tahlequah is relentless in her unceasing focus. What does it take to dive deeply for a deceased loved one, day after day, mile after mile, each time having to decide whether to take a deep breath and do it again?

That’s what goes through my mind as she keeps this up and I do what I can to bear witness.

Every hour every day for a week, I wonder, is she still carrying that baby. When I hear she is, I can hardly believe it.


The Seattle Times has seen an outpouring of reactions to Tahlequah and her calf. Here’s a form for you to share your own with us.