An endangered orca is still clinging to her dead calf more than two weeks after her newborn died.
Michael Milstein, a spokesman with NOAA Fisheries, says researchers on Wednesday spotted the 20-year-old whale known as J35 carrying her dead young off the tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
The calf died July 24 and the image of the mother whale clinging to the dead calf has struck an emotional chord worldwide.
U.S. and Canadian scientists said they were concerned about the mother’s condition and would keep monitoring her, but have no immediate plans to help her or remove the calf.
Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said they are worried that the time and energy she spends carrying the body could take away from foraging or feeding.
“Removing the calf would be a very, very difficult decision, and obviously we would have to take many factors into consideration, so that’s currently not on the table,” she said.
Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, added: “It would be very challenging and perhaps not in the best interest of the animal to go in and remove the calf. I’m not even sure we would be successful.”
Milstein says researchers with Fisheries and Ocean Canada also spotted another member of the same pod — the 3 ½-year old whale J50 that is emaciated. The ailing orca was swimming with her mom Wednesday.
Teams of whale experts raced out to sea Thursday to assess her health and potentially give her medication.