Scientists have been unable to determine how an endangered orca calf died because—as of Wednesday, 16 days later—its mother still won't let it go. "I am sobbing ... absolutely shocked and heartbroken," researcher Deborah Giles tells the Seattle Times. "I can't believe she is still carrying her calf around." Concerns have been mounting about the health of the mother, known as J35, but they appear to have now hit a grave level. According to Giles, J35 almost certainly isn't getting the nutrition necessary to regain strength lost during the gestation period (17 months on average) and her subsequent period of mourning, even if family members are "foraging for and sharing fish with her."
Recent sightings of J35's pod off Washington's Olympic Peninsula brought additional concerns: An ailing 3.5-year-old female orca with the potential to reproduce was seen swimming with her mother but is emaciated and lethargic, and may have only days to live, reports the Victoria Times-Colonist. Per CTV News, US and Canadian officials are working on a plan to save J50, one of 75 orcas in the southern resident population, who may have an infection. Using a pole or dart to administer an injection of antibiotics is "our best course," an NOAA Fisheries scientist tells the Times-Colonist, though CTV describes concerns about disturbing pod members. (Read more orca stories.)