This morning we encountered L72 and L105 carrying a dead killer whale calf off the west side of San Juan Island. We followed the whales for just over 6 hours, and most of the time the calf was not visible, but on occasion L72 would lift the calf out of the water when she was surfacing. When we were able to see the calf L72 appeared to either be pushing it in front of her balanced on her rostrum or would be carrying the calf on the top of her head, but the calf was negatively buoyant, so had probably not been dead for long. Although L105, L72's ~6 year old son, was within 50 or 100 m for most of the time, we did not see L105 interacting with the dead calf. Based on the size of the calf (approximately 6-7') we suspect it was near-term but no way to know whether it was stillborn or born alive and died shortly afterward. Upon surfacing L72 would frequently appear to 'drop' the calf and both whales would stop and dive deep to recover it. From the photos it appears the calf was a female, and the umbilical is still attached and clearly visible. When we left the whales early this evening L72 still had the calf with her.
We will be out early hoping to re-locate the group, but it would be very good for folks on the water tomorrow to be on the lookout for the dead calf, L72 and L105, or the placenta (which should float and would be of great value to collect).
Robin Baird, Cascadia Research, Olympia, WA
(Source: Orca Network E-Newsletter Reports)