Heartbreaking photo shows endangered killer whale carrying its stillborn calf for hours off US coast

A critically endangered southern-resident killer whale whose calf died shortly after birth was seen carrying its baby for hours on Wednesday off the coast of North America.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research told the Seattle Times that the calf’s death, which was within 30 minutes of its birth, continued the reproductive failure of the southern residents.

The mother, J35, was seen balancing the stillborn calf on her head on Tuesday (local time), refusing to let her go, Balcomb said.

“The dead calf would occasionally slip off her (head) and sink, at which time J35 would dive down and retrieve the carcass,” he said.

A study linked the species’ low reproductive success to the lack of chinook salmon – their preferred food.

Up to two-thirds of pregnancies were lost among the southern residents from 2007 to 2014.

“Maybe this is her protest," Mr Balcomb said.

Robin Baird, a research biologist, watched another of southern residents carry her dead calf in 2010 and says the act is a sign of the emotional stress the animals must be under.

“It reflects the very strong bonds these animals have, and as a parent, you can only imagine what kinds of emotional stress these animals must be under, having these events happen,” Baird said.

“You could see the calf had not been dead very long, the umbilical cord was visible.”

Source: Michael Weiss, Center for Whale Research. Source: Michael Weiss, Center for Whale Research.