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Dead calf highlights the tough situation orcas are in

Southern resident orcas. (AP)

A newborn Southern Resident orca didn’t live long enough to be given an alpha-numeric designation.

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The calf’s mother, J35, has grieved for days.

It’s an example of just how intelligent orcas are, and the hardships they face.

“It reflects what we know about these marvelous creatures,” said Ken Balcomb, founder and principal investigator with the Center for Whale Research. “They grieve. They have — obviously — the same response to loss that we have.”

The orca calf was born near Victoria, B.C. on July 24. It died shortly after.

On July 26, the calf’s mother, J35, was still pushing its carcass.

“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 …” The Center for Whale Research reported.

J35 continued to push the dead calf through at least sunset on July 26.

Approximately 75 percent of newborn orcas in the past two decades have not survived. And all of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce “viable offspring.” The Southern Resident orca population is considered endangered, according to the Center for Whale Research.

The Southern Resident orca population is one of NOAA’s “Species in the Spotlight.” Of all species NOAA Fisheries protects under the Endangered Species Act, the Southern Resident orcas are one of eight considered to be at the most risk of extinction in the near future. According to the orca population census in 2016, there were only 78 left.

Balcomb says the latest death highlights the issues sea life faces with food shortages, as well as toxins in the water and noise pollution.

“There just is not enough nutrients for mothers to produce healthy calves and for them to have enough nutrients in order to be viable in order to sustain themselves,” he explained.

The Center for Whale Research is working toward recommendations that will “hopefully make a difference,” Balcomb said.

Those recommendations will likely be presented in the fall.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee called for the formation of a task force to develop a long-term plan for the recovery of the orca population. You can read his executive order here.

Balcomb previously said Inslee’s order was a start. However, it’s not enough.

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