People know a famous community of killer whales as individuals, with their own names, families, and personalities—which has made their woes even harder to take.
The first half of the killer whale’s scientific name—Orcinus orca—comes from the Latin for “of the realms of the dead.” For one population of orcas living in the waters of the Pacific Northwest, that etymology has taken on a newly dark resonance.
Last month, a 20-year-old female orca named Tahlequah (J35) gave birth to a female calf that died after half an hour. While many orca mothers have been seen carrying the bodies of their dead calves for a day or so, Tahlequah did so for 17 days—a heartbreaking tour that captured the world’s attention, and that ended last Friday. “I have never seen that kind of grief,” says Ken Balcomb from the Center for Whale Research.
Meanwhile, scientists noticed that a 3-year-old female named Scarlet (J50) was looking severely emaciated, with her ribs showing through her side. They have since given her a shot of antibiotics, via dart, and are considering feeding her more medications embedded within live salmon.