Orca update: The grieving process is over but we all have work to do

Orca swimming in gray water


Residents of the Pacific Northwest and people throughout the world were glued to the news coverage about Tahlequah (also known as J35) as she tragically carried her deceased calf for more than two weeks. Tahlequah was going through what many researchers have deemed a grieving process that is not uncommon among orcas who are known for their strong family bonds.

We at the Aquarium wanted to give a brief update on what is happening and share some news on steps the Orca Salmon Alliance has taken and what policy leaders are doing to help save this iconic species.

Tahlequah (J35) is in good health after grieving process:

After traveling more than 1,000 miles over 17 days with the body of her calf in tow, researchers determined Tahlequah finally released the body of her deceased calf just over a week ago. Biologists were concerned with the toll carrying her calf for such a long period of time would have on Tahlequah’s health and have been monitoring the situation closely.

The good news is that Tahlequah was recently spotted by Ken Balcomb from the Center for Whale Research frolicking with her fellow J pod whales and seems to be in good health. We will continue to report her progress as we hear from our partners monitoring the situation.

Scarlet’s (J50’s) health continued to be monitored:

Under the direction of NOAA and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the three-year-old female orca Scarlet (also known as J50), was administered antibiotics by the head veterinarian of the Vancouver Aquarium. Researchers monitoring her health have been concerned that she is malnourished and may be suffering from an infection that has contributed to her health issues.

After she was successfully administered a dose of antibiotics through a darting method, researchers and members of the Lummi Nation attempted to feed her live hatchery-grown chinook salmon through an innovative process. The team released eight live salmon about 75 to 150 yards in front of Scarlet, while teams from NOAA Fisheries and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife looked on. Observers reported that Scarlet appeared to react to the released fish by quickly diving, but biologists could not confirm whether she ate the fish and are reviewing aerial footage for further clues.

Scarlet and her pod have since moved north; officials on both sides of the border will continue to monitor her health and may try the process again.

Update: NOAA officials report that some of the test results from health samples they collected are starting to return from labs around the country. Fecal samples collected from a group of three J pod whales (Slick/J16, Echo/J42 and Scarlet/J50) show signs of a parasite that is commonly found in orca whales and other marine mammals. While researchers cannot be sure any of the samples came from Scarlet, the veterinary team has decided it may attempt to administer a deworming medication in addition to the antibiotics to make sure she can better regain some of the weight she has lost.

Orca Salmon Alliance delivers 43,000+ public comments to Governor’s task force:

The Seattle Aquarium is a proud member of the Orca Salmon Alliance and in the first week of August the coalition—which is comprised of 15 organizations—delivered more than 43,000 public comments to the Governor’s orca task force. The comments were submitted by Washington residents who are in support of taking urgent action to save our local orcas. The “Sound the Alarm for Orcas” petition called for a series of recommendations to help recover the Southern Resident population, which included the recovery of our local salmon populations, pollution prevention, noise reduction and other critical protections.

The Southern Resident Recovery Task Force will continue to meet with stakeholders over the next three months and issue recommendations to the Governor and state policymakers by October 1. We recently wrote about how you can submit public comment in support of orca recovery and will keep you updated as further news and recommendations are put forth from the committee.

Next meeting of Southern Resident Orca Task Force on Aug. 28

The next meeting of the Governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force will take place on Tuesday, August 28, from 10am–5pm in Anacortes. If you would like to learn more about the agenda or are interested in attending you can visit the task force website for additional information. You can also view a broadcast of the meeting live on TVW the day of the meeting.

A thank you to researchers, state officials and the Lummi Nation for their tireless work:

As we previously mentioned there has been a tremendous coordinated effort to monitor and help both Tahlequah and Scarlet through this heartbreaking period. We at the Aquarium would like to extend a big thank you to the teams at NOAA, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Center for Whale Research, the Lummi Nation and all others who have been involved in the effort.

If you would like to read a firsthand account of the effort, check out the op-ed by Sen. Kevin Ranker in the Seattle Times who had the opportunity to experience the efforts and who shared a bold call-to-action on behalf of our Southern Resident orcas.


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