Orca lets go of dead calf after 17 days of mourning

Orca lets go of dead calf after 17 days of mourning
Photo credit: Facebook/ Center for Whale Research

A mourning orca which carried her dead for 17 days has finally let go.

The Southern Resident orca gave birth to the calf near Victoria, British Columbia on the morning of July 24. It was seen alive and swimming with her, but by mid-morning it had died.

As the baby's carcass began to sink it was repeatedly retrieved by the mother, known as J35, who began supporting it on her forehead and pushing it around.

The Center for Whale Research (CWR) called the mother's behaviour a "tour of grief". Its records show she travelled more than 1600km with her dead calf over the 17 days.

CWR has confirmed the mother "definitely abandoned it" on August 11 off the coast of Vancouver.

"The carcass has probably sunk to the bottom of these inland marine waters of the Salish Sea, and researchers may not get a chance to examine it for necropsy," CWR said.

Researchers said the ordeal was a testament to the mother's amazing strength, and the strong mother-offspring bond between orca.

According to the CWR, 100 percent of newborn Southern Resident orca pregnancies in the last three years have failed to produce viable offspring.

The species is endangered and at imminent threat of extinction. Scientists attribute the declining population to a lack of food, with its primary prey species the Chinook salmon also listed as endangered.