Coping with the loss of a child is a difficult feat for any mother – and this orca has proved that animals are no different. She carried a dead calf on her nose, swimming for more than three days without letting go in the Pacific Northwest.
“I think she’s just grieving, unwilling at this point to let the calf go, like, ‘Why, why, why?’” said Ken Balcomb, Founder and Chief Scientist for the Center for Whale Research.
With about 75 whales, there should be eight or nine new babies each year. But, that hasn’t been the case lately. This whale gave birth to the first calf the local orca population has seen since 2015.
But, a mere hour and a half after she gave birth, the calf died.
The calf sinks because it doesn’t have enough blubber to float. But, the grieving mother dives down to the bottom and picks it up again:
“The calf sinks because it doesn’t have enough of a blubber layer, and it goes down. She dives down and picks it back up and brings it to the surface.” https://t.co/GHCnANdu3z— Lauretta Charlton (@laurettaland) July 28, 2018
Some couldn’t understand why she continued to hold onto the dead calf:
Why do you think she is still carrying the baby around?— Lyss (@LyssHinds) July 28, 2018
Which received a heartbreaking explanation:
She is not ready to let go as any mother would be. There has not been a baby born in 3 years. Orca’s carry babies in their bodies for an average of 17 months. The baby was born alive. She’s grieving.— Holly Marie Combs (@H_Combs) July 28, 2018
People were heartbroken for the poor momma whale:
??— Meghan (@MegMM86) July 28, 2018
So sad see this. Truly, mothers are the best creatures.— Angela. (@trishiepd) July 28, 2018
This is heartbreaking ???— RayeF88 ?????? (@rayef88) July 28, 2018
??? This is so sad. I feel horrible for the momma. Now I'm going to be sad the rest of the evening, and I'll be up all night thinking about this poor momma Orca and her baby. Sometimes nature can be so cruel. pic.twitter.com/F4m7eFZyvy— Dawn (@obxgirl75) July 28, 2018
Balcomb has tracked the population for more than four decades. Population decline, which is thought to be caused by environmental destruction, shortened food supply, and a dwindling gene pool, is contributing to the endangerment of other animals, like the Chinook.
Ocras use vocal communication, and express emotions like grief. Sometimes, the whales will bring the bodies of their dead calves up to the surface of the water – and this can go on for hours. But, with hundreds of miles under her belt and a trek from Victoria to San Juan Islands, this orca has been on quite a long mourning swim.
“We know it happens, but this one is kind of on tour almost, like she’s just not letting go.” Balcomb said.
She has last been spotted still balancing the dead calf on her nose, swimming at the southern point of the San Juan Islands.
The world is mourning (and sobbing) alongside this mourning mom:
And the world is grieving with her and for her.....— Angie Lake (@AngieLake3) July 28, 2018
This just makes me so sad. I cannot imagine how heartbreaking this is for the mother.— Jenn (@keepupwithjen) July 28, 2018
I’m not crying, you’re crying. Ok fine, we’re all crying.