Nearly two years ago, a tragic story surfaced in the news about a mother orca named Tahlequah who carried her dead calf 17 days and more than 1,000 miles. It is heartbreaking to think about, but we have good news: Tahlequah is pregnant again.
Tahlequah is a member of the endangered population of southern resident orcas that frequent Puget Sound, which is near Seattle. Using a remote-activated drone that flies more than 100 feet over whales, scientists found out that Tahlequah will have another chance at motherhood. The pregnancies are not unusual, so the scientists don’t usually announce them. But Tahlequah’s pregnancy carries a special meaning for a region that grieved the loss of the calf.
The southern residents are struggling to survive, and most pregnancies for these embattled whales are not successful. Tahlequah’s baby was the first for the whales in three years. The southern residents have since had two more calves. Both are still alive. Tahlequah’s baby is still a long way away, and like all the orca moms-to-be, Tahlequah, or J-35, will need every chance to bring her baby into the world — and keep it alive. The gestation period for orcas is typically 18 months, and families stick together for life.
A successful birth also relies on respect from everyone on the waters of Puget Sound, the researchers say. All boaters of every type should be careful to respect the whales’ space and give them the peace and quiet they need.
Down to a population of just 72 whales, every baby counts for southern resident orcas. We certainly hope Tahlequah’s pregnancy is a successful one.