Tahlequah (killer whale)

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J35 Tahlequah
SpeciesKiller whale (Orcinus orca)
BreedSouthern Resident
Bornc. 1998 (age 20–21)
Offspring1 living, 1 dead
Named afterTahlequah, Washington

Tahlequah (born c. 1998), also known as J35, is a killer whale of the Southern Resident community in the northeastern Pacific Ocean. She has birthed two known offspring, a male in 2010 and a female in 2018. Her second calf died shortly after birth and her body was carried by J35 for 17 days in an apparent showing of grief that attracted international attention.


J35 was given the name "Tahlequah" by The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington, as part of their Adopt-a-Whale outreach program. One of her adopters was Malia Obama, daughter of Barack Obama.[1]


J35 was born in 1998 to J17 (Princess Angeline), a member of the J pod of the Southern Resident community, and has two living siblings.[2][3] J35's first calf, a male named J47 (Notch), was born in 2010, and researchers speculated that she miscarried another calf in the mid-2010s.[3][4] After the death of her sister J28 (Polaris) in 2016, J35 cared for her two offspring until one starved to death.[5]

Her second calf, a female, was born on July 24, 2018, near Victoria, British Columbia;[6] she was alive, but died within a half-hour of her birth.[7] The infant population and health of the Southern Residents community had declined in the early 21st century, due in part to a smaller supply of Chinook salmon and the presence of polluting substances in the Salish Sea.[4]

J35 carried the calf's body on her rostrum while following the pod around the San Juan Islands and interior waters of British Columbia over the following two weeks.[7] Whale researchers noted that J35 looked emaciated and other pod members were showing concern for her health.[8] After the seventh day, other members began taking turns floating the calf while allowing J35 to rest.[9] By the ninth day, the calf had shown signs of visible decomposition and was becoming harder to carry.[10] The pod disappeared for several days in early August, but were spotted on August 8, with J35 still carrying her calf after 16 days.[11][12] By the following day, after 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of swimming, J35 released the calf and rejoined the J pod with no apparent signs of malnutrition or ill health.[13][14]

Her unusually long period of grieving attracted international attention and an outpouring of sympathy, comparing her actions to that of a human mother.[4][15] The ongoing crisis within the Southern Residents community prompted calls for intervention, including dam removals and the increased killing of sea lions who interfere with salmon growth in the Columbia River.[6][16] Washington Governor Jay Inslee stated that he supported new measures to address orca-related issues and would work with state and federal officials to find short-term solutions.[17]


  1. ^ Rasmussen, Scott (June 9, 2015). "New allies in killer whale recovery? Orcas adopted by Obama girls". San Juan Journal. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  2. ^ Center for Whale Research (June 17, 2018). "Southern Resident Orca Community Demographics, Composition of Pods, Births and Deaths since 1998". Orca Network. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  3. ^ a b "J-35 Tahlequah". The Whale Museum. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Dwyer, Colin (July 31, 2018). "After Calf's Death, Orca Mother Carries It For Days In 'Tragic Tour Of Grief'". NPR. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  5. ^ Calloway Whiting, Candace (July 27, 2018). "Grieving mother whale is now on her third day of carrying her dead calf – the face of extinction". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Le, Phoung (July 25, 2018). "New endangered Puget Sound orca dies soon after birth". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Mapes, Lynda V. (July 24, 2018). "Southern-resident killer whales lose newborn calf, and another youngster is ailing". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  8. ^ Mapes, Lynda V. (July 30, 2018). "Grieving mother orca falling behind family as she carries dead calf for a seventh day". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  9. ^ "Orcas now taking turns floating dead calf in apparent mourning ritual". CBC Radio. August 1, 2018. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  10. ^ Phorn, Bopha (August 1, 2018). "Researchers found orca whale still holding on to her dead calf 9 days later". ABC News. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  11. ^ Mapes, Lynda V. (August 8, 2018). "'I am sobbing': Mother orca still carrying her dead calf — 16 days later". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  12. ^ Mapes, Lynda V. (August 6, 2018). "Lummi Nation, biologists prepare to feed starving orca. But where is she?". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  13. ^ Mapes, Lynda V. (August 11, 2018). "After 17 days and 1,000 miles, mother orca Tahlequah drops her dead calf". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  14. ^ Selk, Avi (August 10, 2018). "The stunning, devastating, weeks-long journey of an orca and her dead calf". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  15. ^ Mapes, Lynda V. (July 28, 2018). "Orca mother carries dead calf for sixth day as family stays close by". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  16. ^ Banse, Tom (July 31, 2018). "Congress Voting To Let More Sea Lions Be Killed To Protect Salmon". KUOW. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  17. ^ Del Rosario, Simone (July 26, 2018). "Inslee voices support for short-term action on orcas as long-term decisions loom". Q13 Fox. Retrieved August 1, 2018.