Researchers hope case of grieving orca mother will push people to help save species

SEATTLE -- Whale researchers hope more people will focus on trying save the endangered southern resident killer whales after all the attention generated by the heartbreaking case of a grieving mother orca carrying her dead calf for more than a week.

Thursday marked the 10th day the orca whale J35, known as Tahlequah, has been seen by researchers carrying the body of her dead calf.

“It’s heartbreaking, it’s really hard for us to watch,” said Lynne Barre, the recovery coordinator for endangered southern resident killer whales for NOAA Fisheries.

She’s worked with these animals for 15 years and says what is happening with Tahlequah is something she has never seen.

“Moms carry those animals around for a little bit, but this is the longest I’m aware of for southern residents,” said Barre.

Hundreds of people have commented on Q13 News’ Facebook page about how heartbreaking it is to watch this mother whale swimming through the water as she holds up her dead calf.

“In this case we’re seeing it every day, and we’re seeing real quantifiable grief and it’s traumatic,” said Michael Harris, the former executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

He says he’s spent years getting to know these whale pods and he says they are disappearing from our waters.

“We are orca country. Without orcas, what are we?" he asked.

Harris and Barre both say as tragic as these images are to see, they hope the world’s recent focus on these creatures creates enough of a push to help save them.

“It’s capturing people’s attention just because of the situation with this endangered population; there is only 75 whales right now. It’s the lowest it’s been in several decades,” said Barre.

Researchers monitoring Tahlequah say despite the whale carrying her dead calf for this long, the mother whale still appears to be healthy.