Killer Whale Finally Lets Go of Her Dead Calf After Carrying it For 17 Days

(FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash.) — Researchers say an endangered killer whale that drew international attention as she carried her dead calf on her head for more than two weeks is finally back to feeding and frolicking with her pod.

The Center for Whale Research in Washington state says it watched the orca, known as J35, chase a school of salmon in Haro Strait west of San Juan Island on Saturday afternoon.

The whales have been struggling because of a lack of salmon, and J35′s calf died soon after birth on July 24. The mother carried the baby on her head for at least 17 days, in an image of grief that struck an emotional chord worldwide.

She finally abandoned the carcass as it decomposed.

Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb says he is immensely relieved to see J35 returning to typical behavior.

…read more

Source:: Time – Science


NASA’s Flight to Sun Delayed After Last-Minute Technical Problem

(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) — A last-minute technical problem Saturday delayed NASA’s unprecedented flight to the sun.

The early morning launch countdown was halted with just one-minute, 55 seconds remaining, keeping the Delta IV rocket on its pad with the Parker Solar Probe.

Rocket maker United Launch Alliance said it would try again Sunday, provided the helium-pressure issue can be resolved quickly. As soon as the red pressure alarm for the gaseous helium system went off, a launch controller ordered, “Hold, hold, hold.”

Once on its way, the Parker probe will venture closer to our star than any other spacecraft. The $1.5 billion mission is already a week late because of rocket issues. Saturday’s launch attempt encountered a series of snags; in the end, controllers ran out of time.

Thousands of spectators gathered in the middle of the night to witness the launch, including the University of Chicago astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named. Eugene Parker predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago. He’s now 91 and eager to see the solar probe soar. He plans to stick around at least another few days.

…read more

Source:: Time – Science


‘She’s Clearly Reacting to a Loss’: Experts Say Killer Whale Carrying Her Dead Calf for 17 Days May Actually Be Grieving

A mother orca whale is still carrying the body of her calf 17 days after it died, in what some experts say may be an unprecedented testament to the strength of the species’ familial bonds.

The whale, known as Tahlequah or J35, is one of just 75 Southern Resident killer whales left in the ocean, and her calf — which died minutes after it was born last month — was the group’s first live birth since 2015. Tahlequah has been spotted in waters off the Pacific Northwest multiple times over the past two weeks, often pushing her calf’s corpse through the water or swimming with it balancing on her forehead. Other members of the pod have even taken turns carrying its body.

The heartbreaking display of apparent grief has captivated onlookers — and stymied experts.

The Southern Resident killer whales’ endangered status and cultural significance in both the U.S. and Canada has made them arguably the most studied whales in the world, says Peter Ross, a killer whale expert and vice president of research at conservation group Ocean Wise. But despite that close observation, Ross says, experts haven’t seen anything like this before, which makes it all the more noteworthy.

“This is unusual behavior,” Ross says. “It’s not normal. We haven’t seen it before. What it means — who knows?”

Dennis Christen, senior director of zoological operations at the Georgia Aquarium, says the strong bonds between mother whales and their calves can prompt this type of behavior for short periods of time. But staying with a dead calf for 17 days is unusual, he agrees, even for a such a social species.

“We do know that animals form very strong bonds, and killer whales are very well known to have very strong social relationships with their family members,” Christen says. “[Tahlequah] is an experienced mom — she’s had a calf before — so she’s doing what she has a very strong instinct to do.”

Southern Resident killer whales may have an especially strong tendency toward this type of behavior, Ross says. Whereas Bigg’s killer whales, which eat marine mammals, tend to hunt in small groups because they need the element of surprise, Southern Resident whales’ fish-only diet, which doesn’t necessitate stealthy hunting, allows them to travel in large groups, Ross explains. This feeding pattern builds a family-centric culture, which may be compounded by the fact that females have only a few …read more

Source:: Time – Science