motherhood

May We All Be Inspired by This Mother Whale Who Carried Her Dead Calf Across the Ocean for 17 Days

Photo: Yuri Smityuk/Yuri Smityuk/TASS

Many mothers say they would go to the ends of the Earth for their children. But few mothers literally do just that, as Tahlequah the killer whale did when her baby died just a few hours after birth. The whale has been seen swimming a thousand miles across the ocean, her deceased calf in tow, for more than two weeks; but within the last few days, reports, she’s finally decided to let go.

The duo were last spotted by researchers last week, 17 days after the calf had died. In an effort to prevent her baby from sinking, Tahlequah had been attempting to bring it toward land along the Pacific Northwest of the United States and the western coast of Canada.

“Her tour of grief is now over, and her behavior is remarkably frisky,” the Center for Whale Research wrote on their blog. Such “frisky” behavior includes chasing a school of salmon with her mates in the Haro Strait, sans child. It seems, despite her grief, Tahlequah is learning how to enjoy her life without the literal weight of a deceased child.

Tahlequah’s story — a tale of love, loss, and a mother’s will — has garnered global attention (it’s only a matter of time before Hollywood nabs the rights). When asked readers to share their responses to the story last week, one wrote, “I can’t stop crying. I can’t sleep. My heart is aching and I am powerless to help.” Many contributed art and poetry inspired by the whale. Deborah Miranda’s poem, a stanza of which is included below, was particularly evocative.

This mother will not allow

her daughter’s body to sink

out of sight

beneath the Salish Sea,

but carries it

the way any mother

would wear her grief—

on her own body,

like a scar.

One Twitter user even started a petition to get Tahlequah on the cover of Time Magazine:

The whales are part of the Southern Resident population, which has about 75 members and has not gone three years without a successful birth. In the last 20 years, only 25 percent of babies have survived. Scientists still have their eye on another female from the same pod known as Scarlet, who has been given antibiotics to fight off infections and is reportedly losing a lot of weight.

“Tahlequah united millions of people worldwide in heartbreak and love as she carried her dead calf for 1,000 miles,” Greenpeace field organizing manager Ben Smith said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that population is malnourished and in dire need of food and protection. That is why our elected officials and civic leaders have a moral responsibility to take action and ensure that the orca’s main food source, salmon, recovers and is not further depleted.”

May the baby whale rest in peace.