In 2018, a female Southern Resident orca off the coast of Washington captured hearts and minds around the world with her apparently grief-stricken reaction to the death of her newborn calf, who lived less than 30 minutes. The mother—identified as “J35” and informally referred to as “Tahlequah”—bore the body of her infant for 17 days and 1,000 miles, unwilling to let go.
This summer, drone images of Tahlequah show a body profile that is much rounder than it was the same time last year—a reliable sign of pregnancy. Orca scientists and fans now watch anxiously, hoping that this time, Tahlequah and her family are able to welcome a healthy calf into the fold.
The Southern Resident orcas are critically endangered, due to toxic pollutants in their tissues, heavy shipping traffic, and declining salmon. They need every birth to succeed. Best of all would be a baby girl; this struggling population needs as many new females as possible to produce more offspring in the future.