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Tahlequah the orca is a mother again after famously mourning her dead calf

In 2018, the killer whale touched hearts everywhere during her "tour of grief."
Orca mom Tahlequah welcomed a new calf after mourning her her loss two years ago.
Orca mom Tahlequah welcomed a new calf after mourning her her loss two years ago.Katie Jones / Courtesy The Center for Whale Research
/ Source: TODAY

Tahlequah the killer whale is a mom again!

The orca, who famously carried her dead calf with her for weeks in 2018, has now given birth to a healthy calf, according to the Center for Whale Research, which monitors killer whale populations in the Pacific Northwest.

The center shared a photo on Twitter of the mom and her calf swimming side by side.

“Hooray! Her new calf appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life,” the center said in a press release. “We know that it was not born today because its dorsal fin was upright, and we know that it takes a day or two to straighten after being bent over in the womb, so we assign its birthday as September 4, 2020.”

Orcas have an 18-month gestation period, and scientists estimate that Tahlequah, who is referred to by researchers as J35, had been pregnant with the calf, named J57, since February of last year.

Tahlequah made headlines in 2018 when she was seen carrying her dead calf on her head for 17 days over a distance of about 1,000 miles around the Salish Sea, a network of waterways off the coast of Washington and British Columbia.

Orca Mom
In 2018, the orca mom was seen carrying her dead calf for weeks.Courtesy Taylor Shedd

Her period of mourning, which the center called the orca mom’s “tour of grief,” struck a chord with people around the world.

"It was heartbreaking," Taylor Shedd, program coordinator at the Soundwatch Boater Education Program at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington, told TODAY at the time. "I can only imagine the stress and the pain she must be going through."

Tahlequah’s story also resonated with some mothers who had lost a child.

“I think every baby-loss parent I have ever met relates to Tahlequah,” one woman, Cori McKenzie, told the Seattle Times in 2018. “I wish I would have had a week or more to spend with my daughter instead of a few hours. Her sadness breaks my heart.”

The Center for Whale Research says it hopes “this calf is a success story” but also noted that “with the whales having so much nutritional stress in recent years, a large percentage of pregnancies fail, and there is about a 40% mortality rate for young calves.”

So far, though, Tahlequah’s new calf, whose sex has not been identified, seemed strong and healthy as it swam with its mother.

And based on researchers’ latest sighting, Tahlequah seems to be very protective of her new little one.

“Tahlequah was mostly separate from the other whales and being very evasive as she crossed the border into Canada,” the center said, “so we ended our encounter with her after a few minutes and wished them well on their way.”