An endangered orca that captivated the world with its "tour of grief" has returned to its pod after spending more than two weeks clinging to a dead and decomposing calf, researchers said Sunday.
Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research, spotted orca J35 with her pod off San Juan Island on Saturday, and said the ordeal of carrying her dead calf is over.
The whale then "vigorously chased a school of salmon with her pod-mates in Haro Strait" off Canada's Vancouver Island, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) said.
The whales have been struggling because of a lack of salmon, and J35′s calf died soon after birth.
The centre says J35 appears to be in good health based on telephoto images, in spite of concerns that she may not be able to forage for food while carrying around the carcass.
She was documented by researchers at the Centre for Whale Research, who officially refer to her as J35.
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In this file photo taken Tuesday, July 24, 2018, provided by the Center for Whale Research, a baby orca whale is being pushed by her mother. "And on Thursday she was still seen pushing her baby to the water's surface".
"Her tour of grief is now over and her behaviour is remarkably frisky", the Center for Whale Research said.
Researchers had anxious J35, who was last spotted with her dead calf Wednesday, was not eating properly and was spending too much energy pushing the corpse. They hoped to capture the calf once Tahlequah finally let go, and discover why it had died - as almost all the babies in this pod seemed to die.
It's believed her calf's body sunk to the bottom of the strait, meaning researchers may not get a chance to examine it for an autopsy. "Orcas. are charismatic megafauna", she said.
Regrettably, researchers say about 75% of newborns in the recent two decades following designation of the Southern Resident killer whale population as "endangered" have not survived, and 100% of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce viable offspring. He said the mother traveled more than 1,000 miles with the corpse.