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Mourning Orca Mom Carries Her Dead Baby For Days - And The Reason Why Will Bring You To Tears

Q13 FOX News / Ken Balcomb / Center for Whale Research

We often forget that some animals share many of the same emotions as us - especially intelligent ones like elephants, dolphins, orcas, and chimpanzees.

Because we don't speak their language, it doesn't mean they're devoid of emotion.

Of course, there are animals who have no sympathy for their own kind and would neglect their offspring in a heartbeat.

Then there are some animals that are the most loving mothers in the animal kingdom. They love their offspring with every fiber of their being, just like most human mothers.

The love of a mother orca

If you watched the 2013 documentary Blackfish, then you know just how precious and loving orca families are.

The scene where a captive mother orca cries after getting separated from her calf left me crying for days. Some argue that scene was faked, but it's hard to deny that orcas, whose brains have been scientifically proven to be more emotionally complex than humans, wouldn't become an emotional wreck over such a loss.

It's been years since I watched that documentary, but I can still hear the heartbreaking cries of the mother.

Days of mourning

Recently, an orca mom has gone viral after carrying her dead calf for more than a week near Canada's west coast.

The calf died only a few hours after it was born, its body sinking deeper into the water.

But the mother pushed her baby to keep it afloat, either by nudging her calf, gripping the flipper, or having to dive to retrieve the carcass again.

Members of her endangered pod are also taking turns to carry the dead calf.

"They know the calf is dead. I think this is a grieving or a ceremonial thing done by the mother," Ken Balcomb, the Founder of the Center for Whale Research, told CNN. "She doesn't want to let go."

Balcomb speculates that the mother orca must have lost other calves, which has taken a toll on her mental well-being. That being said, she does have an eight-year-old son.

"She's probably lost two other calves since her first offspring eight years ago."

Jenny Atkinson, executive director of the Whale Museum on Washington's San Juan Island, told NPR that the calf and mother must have had a strong bond right from the get-go.

"I can only imagine, once that baby took breath and swam by mom, that the bond they would have already shared had to have deepened. So maybe that makes this even more painful."

Orca populations have been dwindling in the past few years, according to the Center for Whale Research.

Humans are taking a considerable amount of their food supply, mainly salmon, which has affected the survival and health of their newborn calves.

"Extinction is looming," Balcomb added, noting that in the last three years, the orca population in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Canada has had zero babies.

What this means for us and them

Deborah Giles, the research director for nonprofit Wild Orca, is concerned about the health of the young orca.

"I am so terrified for her well-being," she said. "She is a 20-year-old breeding-age female and we need her."

The researchers all agree that it falls on us to help protect these whale populations and rebuild their ecosystems.

“She is stuck in a loop. We are stuck a loop, we are stuck in doing the same thing, expecting to get better results,” Giles added.

“What we need is going to be have to be massive, unheard of, unprecedented change in order to recover this population.”

Share this story to spread awareness about the decline in orca populations.

Orcas are not the only animals to experience intense emotions.  

When a young elephant calf injured his leg, his protective family stood by his side the whole time. Click here to watch the video.

[CNN / NPR / Seattle Times]

Moojan has been a writer at Shared for a year. When she's not on the lookout for viral content, she's looking at cute animal photos. Reach her at moojan@shared.com.