Their movements are closely tracked and photographed by researchers, whale watchers and fans.
"We have obvious concerns about the displacement of her behavior away from foraging and feeding, to carrying the calf, and concerns over the length of time of this behavior as it continues, and the possibility of decreasing her ability to forage effectively", Thornton said. "It's very hard to say, but certainly they're very intelligent animals and the loss of this animal is quite profound for both the (killer whales) and I think for everyone who witnesses this". As of August 9, The Seattle Times reports that Tahlequah was still clinging to her baby, keeping its 400-pound (180-kilogram) body afloat with her head, coming up for air and swimming in a tight circle behind her pod for a few breaths before diving down deep to lift her daughter's body to the surface again.
Dr Hanson said she looked thin and "clearly emaciated" when he and others observed from a boat Saturday near San Juan Island while collecting the whale's breath samples. "But this sets a record", Centre for Whale Research senior scientist Ken Balcomb told the BBC.
"She was breathing very well; her respiratory rate was normal", he said.
The young whale is one of just 75 of the fish-eating orcas that frequent the inland waters of Washington state. But Roxanne Sperry, a cancer researcher and theology student beginning a ministry as a veterinary chaplain, said such feelings are common - as is the sense there is no place to take them. "The future of the population", the NOAA biologist said. The J Pod was seen earlier Thursday, but neither J50 nor J35, the orca carrying her dead calf, were immediately seen.
But they don't plan to intervene to help a mother orca in the same critically endangered pod that also has them anxious.
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Last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a video statement on Facebook detailing what his office is doing to protect the orca population in the waters around the state.
The last time scientists rescued a killer whale in the region was in 2002, when they rehabilitated an orca known as Springer who was found alone. He estimated she has carried the calf more than 1,000 miles.
Chinook salmon from the Marblemount hatchery on the Skagit River are loaded onto the King County Research Vessel SoundGuardian at the dock in Bellingham, Wash., Friday, Aug., 10, 2018.
An emergency effort to feed and treat an ailing young member of the endangered southern resident killer whales made headway on Thursday, according to rescuers.
Female orcas have been having pregnancy problems because of nutritional stress linked to lack of salmon.
Much of the observation of J35 is due to the fact that another of her podmates, J50, is ailing, and researchers are trying to intervene with that whale's medical care. These salmon are backups for the ones on the Lummi police boat.