Given just how intelligent killer whales are believed to be, it shouldn’t come off as much of a surprise that they’re one of the few creatures in the animal kingdom notorious for exhibiting complex emotionally-driven behavior.
But one orca in particular has gone above and beyond the norm this week after mourning a deceased calf for several days.
Image Credit: CWR
Scientists with the San Juan Island-based Center for Whale Research describe the heartbreaking scene, noting that the whale has been nudging the inert calf along through the ocean with its nose.
“I think she’s just grieving, unwilling at this point to let the calf go, like, ‘Why, why, why?’” explained Center for Whale Research scientist Ken Balcomb.
"The baby was so newborn it didn't have blubber. It kept sinking, and the mother would raise it to the surface," he added.
This behavior, not uncommon in orcas and even some dolphins, represents an emotional attachment between the mother and the calf. But the most mind-boggling part of it all is just how long the mother has kept at it.
In a statement released by the Center for Whale Research this week, we’re told that the calf passed away on Tuesday, July 24th before experts could get to it. The mother has continuously buoyed the dead calf since then, refusing to let it go.
No one knows how long the mother might continue this behavior, but some orcas have been known to display this behavior for up to a week. But regardless of how long it keeps up, it’s a tear-jerking scene to say the least.