Tour of Grief: Mother orca carries dead newborn for 9 days

Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research

A mother orca grieving the loss of her newborn has now been carrying its body for nine days. 

According to the Center for Whale Research, the newborn orca was born Tuesday, July 24 near Victoria, British Columbia and died a short time later. 

"The baby’s carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas toward San Juan Island," according to the Center for Whale Research. 

As of Thursday, the mother orca was observed continuing to push the dead baby whale through the water. She was last observed heading west toward the Pacific Ocean so Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research said "maybe her tour of grief will be over." 

After the newborn's death, a marine biologist with Center for Whale Research observed what appeared to be a ceremony. “At sunset, a group of 5-6 females gathered at the mouth of the cove in a close, tight-knit circle, staying at the surface in a harmonious circular motion for nearly 2 hours. As the light dimmed, I was able to watch them continue what seemed to be a ritual or ceremony. They stayed directly centered in the moonbeam, even as it moved." 

Researchers say this type of behavior is a testament to the amazingly strong bond between mother orcas and their offspring.