As the sun set and the windswept seas settled in B.C.'s Southern Gulf Islands, she came into view. "She is blowing me away with how fast she can swim and how far she can go," a researcher said.

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SWANSON CHANNEL, B.C. — Researchers searched all day Tuesday for orca mother Tahlequah, or J35, who has captured worldwide attention for carrying her dead calf for a week.

First, in late afternoon, members of her clan came into view. The boat full of researchers scanned the water, ruling out one whale after another.

As day turned to evening and windswept seas settled, she came into view in a 1,000-foot-deep stretch of water in B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands, as her family traveled around her.

But was her baby, a calf that lived for just a half-hour, still with her, pushed along in a ritual of mourning? “It can be hard to see,” said Taylor Shedd of Soundwatch, who has been monitoring the mother at a distance.

And then: “I saw it,” he said.

There it was, tiny, and still held on the mother orca’s rostrum. It was day eight for Tahlequah. She has traveled hundreds of miles in that time.

Newly shared drone footage of orca mother Tahlequah, or J35, taken Friday as she carried her dead orca calf along the west side of San Juan Island. (Michael Weiss, of the University of Exeter, working with the Center for Whale Research)

What could be seen in the setting sun was just a tiny corner of the calf’s pectoral fin and an orange glow close to her body, the natural color in every newborn calf.

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

“I am relieved we see her, that she is healthy and swimming strongly, and that she is with her family,” Shedd said. “But it is so emotional that she is so caring. It boggles my mind. To carry it is hard for her physically and mentally. It is just heartbreaking.

“She is blowing me away with how fast she can swim and how far she can go.”

Tahlequah is a member of the endangered family of southern-resident orca whales, with only 75 members. Every birth matters, and every female in particular. The crisis with J35 comes even as another member of J pod, J50, appears to be starving to death.

The whales have not had a successful birth in three years.

Researchers plan to track J35 until she releases the calf. They hope to retrieve it and study why it did not survive.


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.