Grieving orca refuses to let go of her dead calf

An Orca carries her dead calf.
An orca carries her dead calf. Photo credit: Weiss/Center for Whale Research

An orca has been carrying her dead calf on her nose around the coast of Victoria, British Columbia for days.

The calf passed away just half-an-hour after it was born to a 20-year-old whale called J35. It was the first calf born into the local population since 2015.

The local population, called the southern resident killer whales, consist of three pods and are endangered. They spend most of their time in British Columbia and Washington State.

The mother and calf have travelled more than 240km around the coast of San Juan Islands and Vancouver.

Ken Balcomb, founder and chief scientist for the San Juan Island-based Center for Whale Research, told the New York Times every time the calf slips into the ocean the orca retrieves it.

"Sometimes she bites the flipper and pulls it up... 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."

It's not unusual for orcas to express grief; in 2010 an orca was seen carrying its dead calf for a few hours.

This group of orcas have been monitored by Mr Balcomb's team since 1976 when there were 70, but then 50 were removed to go to water parks. Twenty years later the population peaked to 100, but now there are only 75 left.