Grieving orca whale releases dead calf after more than two weeks

More than two weeks after the death of her baby, a grieving orca whale has released her dead calf’s body after carrying it around the Pacific Northwest’s waters.

The adult female named Tahlequah, or J35 by scientists, was spotted swimming without her baby near San Juan Island off Washington’s coast on Saturday, scientists said.

According to Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research, the 20-year-old whale appeared healthy despite her weeks-long ordeal.

“J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy,” he told Seattle-based station King 5 in an email.

Tahlequah captured nationwide attention after being spotted carrying her dead calf, which died about a half hour after being born on July 24, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

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KAMCHATKA TERRITORY, RUSSIA - JULY 15, 2018: An aerial image of an orca in Avacha Bay off Kamchatka Peninsula on Russia's Pacific coast. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
KAMCHATKA TERRITORY, RUSSIA - JULY 15, 2018: Orcas in Avacha Bay off Kamchatka Peninsula on Russia's Pacific coast. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
KAMCHATKA TERRITORY, RUSSIA - JULY 15, 2018: An aerial image of orcas in Avacha Bay off Kamchatka Peninsula on Russia's Pacific coast. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
KAMCHATKA TERRITORY, RUSSIA - JULY 15, 2018: Orcas in Avacha Bay off Kamchatka Peninsula on Russia's Pacific coast. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
A Killer Whale Breaches the Surface near Vancouver Island, Canada. (Photo by: Matthew Bailey/VWPics/UIG via Getty Images)
*** EXCLUSIVE - VIDEO AVAILABLE *** PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - UNDATED: A front-on shot of disabled killer whale missing its dorsal fin and front pectoral fin off the coast of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. A DISABLED orca first spotted by a couple in 2013 returns to greet them four years later - and now hes leading the pod. In 2013, photographer and marine tour guides Rainer and Silke Schimpf spotted a young killer whale, who they named Sira, with a missing dorsal fin and right-side pectoral fin, leaving him unable to hunt for himself. But rather than be left to fend for itself or - even worse - die the young calf appeared to be cared for by members of its pod, which shared food with the youngster. Four years later, by chance and coincidence, Rainer and Silke were out at sea in Algoa Bay, South Africa, documenting a pod of 1000 common dolphin hunting sardine when they had the surprise of a lifetime. PHOTOGRAPH BY Rainier Schimpf / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Rainer Schimpf / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
*** EXCLUSIVE - VIDEO AVAILABLE *** ALGOA BAY, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 2017: 4 years later, The Expert Tours couple were surprised to see that not only was Sira almost fully grown, but also appeared to the leader of the pod, in Algoa Bay, South Africa, March 2017. A DISABLED orca first spotted by a couple in 2013 returns to greet them four years later - and now hes leading the pod. In 2013, photographer and marine tour guides Rainer and Silke Schimpf spotted a young killer whale, who they named Sira, with a missing dorsal fin and right-side pectoral fin, leaving him unable to hunt for himself. But rather than be left to fend for itself or - even worse - die the young calf appeared to be cared for by members of its pod, which shared food with the youngster. Four years later, by chance and coincidence, Rainer and Silke were out at sea in Algoa Bay, South Africa, documenting a pod of 1000 common dolphin hunting sardine when they had the surprise of a lifetime. PHOTOGRAPH BY Rainier and Silke Schimpf / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Rainier & Silke Schimpf/Barcroft / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
*** EXCLUSIVE - VIDEO AVAILABLE *** ALGOA BAY, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 2017: Four years later, by chance and coincidence, Rainer and Silke were out at sea in Algoa Bay, South Africa, documenting a pod of 1000 common dolphin hunting sardine when they had the surprise of a lifetime and they were reunited with killer whale Sira, in Algoa Bay, South Africa, March 2017. A DISABLED orca first spotted by a couple in 2013 returns to greet them four years later - and now hes leading the pod. In 2013, photographer and marine tour guides Rainer and Silke Schimpf spotted a young killer whale, who they named Sira, with a missing dorsal fin and right-side pectoral fin, leaving him unable to hunt for himself. But rather than be left to fend for itself or - even worse - die the young calf appeared to be cared for by members of its pod, which shared food with the youngster. Four years later, by chance and coincidence, Rainer and Silke were out at sea in Algoa Bay, South Africa, documenting a pod of 1000 common dolphin hunting sardine when they had the surprise of a lifetime. PHOTOGRAPH BY Rainier and Silke Schimpf / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Rainier & Silke Schimpf/Barcroft / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
*** EXCLUSIVE *** SAN JUAN ISLAND, WASHINGTON - JULY 2016: Two orcas breach the surface of the water, in July 2016 in San Juan Island, Washington, United States. MIGRATING orcas celebrate a successful hunt by showing off their stunning aerial skills, including dorsal fin slaps and belly flops. In the Salish Sea around Washingtons San Juan Island, wildlife photographer Julie Picardi captured the transient orcas leaps � along with three resident whale pods on camera. Resident orcas do not need the same excuse to perform and will often breach or cartwheel without warning � a challenge for any eagle�-eyed photographers. PHOTOGRAPH BY Julie Picardi / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Julie Picardi / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Orca Killer Whale, Orcinus orca, Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl\ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Orca Killer Whale, Orcinus orca, Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl\ullstein bild via Getty Images)
*** EXCLUSIVE *** SAN JUAN ISLAND, WASHINGTON - JULY 2016: Three orcas dive through the Salish Sea, in July 2016 in San Juan Island, Washington, United States. MIGRATING orcas celebrate a successful hunt by showing off their stunning aerial skills, including dorsal fin slaps and belly flops. In the Salish Sea around Washingtons San Juan Island, wildlife photographer Julie Picardi captured the transient orcas leaps � along with three resident whale pods on camera. Resident orcas do not need the same excuse to perform and will often breach or cartwheel without warning � a challenge for any eagle�-eyed photographers. PHOTOGRAPH BY Julie Picardi / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Julie Picardi / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
*** EXCLUSIVE *** SAN JUAN ISLAND, WASHINGTON - JULY 2016: A pod of orcas move through the Salish Sea as one, in July 2016 in San Juan Island, Washington, United States. MIGRATING orcas celebrate a successful hunt by showing off their stunning aerial skills, including dorsal fin slaps and belly flops. In the Salish Sea around Washingtons San Juan Island, wildlife photographer Julie Picardi captured the transient orcas leaps � along with three resident whale pods on camera. Resident orcas do not need the same excuse to perform and will often breach or cartwheel without warning � a challenge for any eagle�-eyed photographers. PHOTOGRAPH BY Julie Picardi / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Julie Picardi / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
ALASKA, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/24: Orca (Killer whale) off Wrangell Island, in Southeast Alaska, USA. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
ALASKA, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/24: Orca (Killer whale) spyhopping off Wrangell Island, in Southeast Alaska, USA. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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In addition to tugging at heartstrings, the calf’s loss was a major blow to the local endangered killer whales’ population, which has just 75 orcas. The calf, a female, was the first born alive since 2015.

Tahlequah is one of two orcas in the pod that scientists have been monitoring.

The second ― J50, also known as Scarlet ― is a 3-year-old who scientists have said is critically malnourished. Attempts to feed the young female were continuing this weekend.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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