Mother orca finally lets go of dead calf after carrying it for 17 days

A grieving mother killer whale who pushed her dead calf 1,600 kilometres over 17 days has finally let go of her offspring.

The mother whale named Tahlequah, or J35, had given birth to a baby southern resident killer whale on July 24, near Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

But by the time a team from the Centre for Whale Research arrived to take pictures of the newborn, it sadly was no longer alive.

The grieving mother had been pushing her dead orca calf around the water for 17 days after giving birth near Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. Source:  Center for Whale Research

For days the mother killer whale, also known as an orca, was seen repeatedly diving to retrieve the calf’s carcass as it sank en route to San Juan Island.

But on Saturday experts confirmed she had dropped the calf.

“She is alive and well and at least over that part of her grief. Today (Saturday local time) was the first day that I, for sure, saw her. It is no longer there,” Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research, told the Seattle Times.

While scientists had previously held fears for Tahlequah’s health due to not eating, Mr Balcomb confirmed she seemed physically stable.

Scientists say the mother whale (foreground) appears healthy after she was pictured over the weekend without the calf. Source:  Center for Whale Research

“J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy,” he said.

“She’s been eating.”

The Centre for Whale Research said the carcass had “probably sunk to the bottom of these inland marine waters of the Salish Sea” and it would be difficult for researchers to locate it for necropsy.

Scientists believe the carcass will be difficult to locate at the bottom of the sea. Source:  Center for Whale Research

The mother is currently surrounded by members of her clan, known as J pod, who stay to support her through the grieving process.

About 75 per cent of newborns have not survived for long after birth in the past 20 years and as a result the southern resident killer whale population has been classified as endangered.

Biologists concerns now turn to another member of the population, a 4.5-year-old known as J50, who will be monitored over its ailing health.