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A Glimmer of Hope for Orca Who Carried Dead Calf

Tahlequah is pregnant again, though it's too soon to celebrate
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 28, 2020 8:31 AM CDT

(Newser) – The orca who carried the body of her dead calf for 17 days over 1,000 miles may get another shot at motherhood. Tahlequah was found to be pregnant during a recent study of the body condition of critically endangered southern resident orcas off the Northwest coast. John Durban of Southall Environmental Associates and Holly Fearnbach of nonprofit SR3 found pregnancies amid the J, K, and L pods through drone images, reports the Seattle Times. Tahlequah's middle was noticeably larger than in an image from September, per People. It's not exactly clear when Tahlequah, of the J pod, might give birth, but the gestation period for orcas is 15 to 18 months. Sadly, up to 69% of all detectable pregnancies in the southern resident population are ultimately unsuccessful, according to a 2017 study.

It found 33% of pregnancies "failed relatively late in gestation or immediately post-partum" due to stress from hunger. The population of 72 whales is suffering from low numbers of Chinook salmon in their traditional hunting grounds, now frequented by fishermen and noisy vessels which disrupt the whales' hunting practices. Tahlequah's 2018 calf was the first born to the population in three years but it lived only 30 minutes. There have since been two more births, one each in J and L pods, and both calves are still living. However, several juveniles in the group look thin, including Tahlequah's living offspring, J-47. "We are concerned if she has a calf, will she be able to look after herself and the calf and J-47, too?" Durban says, per the Times. Fearnbach describes the whales as "critically stressed." (Read more orca stories.)

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