Her grief captured the world.

When Tahlequah, the mother orca whale, carried her dead calf in August of 2018 for 17 days, covering 1,000 miles in the waters extending north from San Juan Island, it spoke to all of us.

People across the globe shared their own stories of grief and longing in poems, songs, blog posts, and more. Tahlequah’s journey became an emblem of the universality of love, the challenge of grief, and the difficulty of letting go.

But now, this heart-wrenching drama turns to a new page that also speaks to the human condition:

Resilience.

Redemption.

And joy, certainly for many humans, and though one can’t know the mind of a whale, probably for Tahlequah herself.

Tahlequah, also known to researchers as J35, and several other members of her pod were shown to be pregnant by drone photos.

Orcas and sea lions in southeast Alaska.
Orcas and sea lions in southeast Alaska. Photo by Randy Hartnell.

Now, Tahlequah’s new, apparently healthy baby is the third born to the orcas known as “southern residents” since 2019. All three young whales continue to survive.

In a text sent Sept. 5, John Durban, senior scientist at Southhall Environmental Associates, wrote “We are really encouraged she carried it to term...And hope our continued monitoring shows it to be in good condition.”

Robust and swimming free

The newborn has been dubbed J57. In its second day of swimming free, it seemed active and healthy. “Robust” is the descriptive term used by Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale research, according to the New York Times.

The birth means a great deal to Randy Hartnell, founder of Vital Choice, who remembers:

I’ve had a few fascinating experiences and heard several amazing stories about orca. Alexandra Morten is a friend who was a whale researcher in British Columbia when she discovered that whales don’t eat farmed salmon. She subsequently became a fierce opponent-activist fighting to rid the BC coast of them.

One interesting thing about Orca is that they are able to distinguish between different types of salmon, and favor the fattiest types—king/Chinook salmon. I also have friends in Alaska who are black-cod fishermen. Black cod are among the most oily fish, rivaling king salmon for fat content. I’ve heard them tell of orca plucking the black cod off their hooks as they reel them up into the boat. Now that takes some dexterity!

Alexandra tells a story about being out in a small skiff watching a pod of orca one day (as she often did) when she was engulfed by thick fog. She became totally disoriented and began to panic when she heard a large ship approaching and realized she was in the shipping channel. Suddenly, one of the orca she’d been observing rose just in front of her skiff and she somehow knew that it was there to lead her to safety, which it did.

Alex said that anyone who’s spent much time around orca can tell stories like this—almost as if they have a sixth sense. Given their mammoth brain size compared to ours, it wouldn’t be surprising!  

We join Randy in wishing little J57 a long, happy life doing what all of us love – enjoying fresh wild salmon! 

Sources:

Mapes, L. (2020, September 07). Orca Tahlequah is a mother again. Retrieved September 09, 2020, from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/orca-tahlequah-is-a-mother-again/

Mapes, L. (2019, May 13). A mother orca's dead calf and the grief felt around the world. Retrieved September 09, 2020, from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/a-mother-orcas-dead-calf-and-the-grief-felt-around-the-world/?utm_source=marketingcloud

Southern Resident Killer Whales. (2019, August 21). Retrieved September 09, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/salish-sea/southern-resident-killer-whales