SeaWorld separates mother orcas from their calves – and the mothers grieve (videos)

 
The world is witnessing the mourning of a Southern Resident killer whale mother, and the grief is no less for captive whales when families have been split up or when dead calves are quickly removed from their mothers.


Russia still captures wild orca calves and sells them internationally – this year they are hoping to capture as many as 13 young  whales.  This video shows how the experience effects the calves.

While there are no permits currently granted in the US for capture of killer whales, there are no laws specifically against it and with the current administration’s plans to weaken the Marine Mammal Protection Act there are no guarantees that captures won’t take place in the future.

The US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) prohibits the killing and harassment of any marine mammals.  There are exceptions, including submitting requests to the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for a permit allowing a person, say for scientific purposes or to catch or import a live dolphin for public display.
…This is not the end of attacks on the MMPA by the current Administration and Congress.  Indeed, last week Congress rolled out a number of new bills to weaken the Endangered Species Act (which protects many endangered marine mammals) while the Trump Administration proposed new regulations gutting the ESA, such as requiring that economic impacts be considered before listing a species as endangered and weakening protection for species listed as threatened under the ESA.
Sadly, control of both Congress and the Presidency by extremists means more rollbacks of environmental laws that are currently inadequate to protect our planet’s life and climate. (EII)

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Please vote for environmental candidates to preserve the future health of the planet, and to keep whale and dolphins in the ocean with their families!

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THIS YEAR, EARTH DAY IS ON NOV. 6

Photo credit: Carrie Sapp                                                                                                            Wild Southern Resident orca calf L 120

Grieving mother whale is now on her third day of carrying her dead calf – the face of extinction

Now on her third day of carrying her dead calf, the mourning of the Southern Resident killer whale, Tahlequah (J35) has reached hearts the world over. Her palpable grief over the loss of her newborn baby is something we all relate to, even though humanity is just beginning to acknowledge that animals suffer and grieve as we do.
This orca family is showing us what it really means for a species to go extinct – we tend to think of the path to extinction in clinical terms that we show graphs…but the real process is painful, and for these whales it is the mothers that die giving birth and the babies that fail to thrive that are racking up the biggest losses.
Photo credit:  Center for Whale Research
They have been hit hard over the last few years.

In the fall of 2016, Tahlequah’s sister (Polaris J28) succumbed to complications thought to be related to the birth of her last calf, Dipper (J54). Her death left her calves, six year old Star (J46) and ten month old Dipper, orphaned but not alone. Tahlequah helped them find food – she had brought salmon to Polaris, and now she helped Star care for Dipper. 

Dipper was still milk-dependent and continued to lose weight even though they brought him pieces of salmon. As he neared death, Tahlequah and other family members helped Star keep Dipper afloat until inevitably he took a final breath, lost consciousness, and disappeared below the surface, joining Polaris in an untimely death.

Photo credit: Mark Malleson               Star cradled her dying brother, helped in these photos by her cousin Notch (J 47) on the other side.

                           As Dipper’s energy faded, Star and their cousin Notch had held him afloat on the surface, easing his struggle to breathe.
The tragic losses that have devastated this orca family parallel what scientists have discovered about the severe consequences of food shortage, consequences that interact with contaminants and anthropogenic noise to blossom in a deadly suite that even survivors like Tahlequah and Star may not be able to withstand.

The family bonds are strong – Star is now reported to be helping the grieving Tahlequah keep the dead neonate at the surface – and the Southern Resident orcas may still recover if Chinook salmon populations are allowed to rebound.

But the incomprehensible lack of action by our government is confining them to a long, drawn out, painful path to extinction. Without more salmon they will suffer hunger, but that pain is eclipsed by the suffering when family members die.
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Regrettably, approximately 75% of newborns in the recent two decades following designation of the Southern Resident killer whale (orca) population as “Endangered” have not survived, and 100% of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce viable offspring.

We are saddened to report that a baby Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) died a short time after it was born near Victoria, British Columbia on July 24, 2018. The newborn whale was reported alive and swimming with its mother, J35, and other members of J pod near Clover Point on the Victoria shoreline in mid-morning.

A Center for Whale Research team was on the water in Haro Strait at the time and immediately responded to photo-document the newborn calf for the long-term census study we maintain for the US and Canadian governments. Unfortunately, by the time the CWR crew arrived on scene, the newborn calf was deceased, and the pod had traveled several miles eastward of the reported sighting location.

The baby’s carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas toward San Juan Island, USA. The mother continued supporting and pushing the dead baby whale throughout the day until at least sunset.

A resident of San Juan Island near Eagle Cove reported: “At sunset, a group of 5-6 females gathered at the mouth of the cove in a close, tight-knit circle, staying at the surface in a harmonious circular motion for nearly 2 hours. As the light dimmed, I was able to watch them continue what seemed to be a ritual or ceremony. They stayed directly centered in the moonbeam, even as it moved. The lighting was too dim to see if the baby was still being kept afloat. It was both sad and special to witness this behavior. My heart goes out to J35 and her beautiful baby; bless it’s soul.”

Killer whales and dolphins have been known to support and transport their dead calves for as long as a week – a testament to the amazingly strong mother/offspring bond and caring.