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The Killer Whale’s Tour of Mourning: A Testament to a Mother’s Love and Grief

November 25, 2018

J35, better known as Tahlequah, made headlines this past summer when she kept her dead calf afloat for over two weeks. Traveling over 1,000 miles during that time, she struck a chord among spectators around the world. After all, the grief of a mother who has lost her child translates across all boundaries, including those of the animal kingdom.

Struggling Orca Populations

Tahlequah’s calf was the first born in three years in a dwindling southern population. Shifting environmental conditions have especially affected recent population birth and survival rates. Tahlequah’s tour was a catalyst for acknowledging a struggling population of orcas.

In addition to increasing awareness for the killer whales, it was a visible representation of a mother’s grief. For many women around the world, Tahlequah’s mourning reflected their own experiences with miscarriages, stillbirths, and infertility.

It Happens, It’s Not Your Fault

About 1 in 160 pregnancies result in stillbirth. Almost 11 to 22 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Over 7.3 million women have used infertility services. The evidence is in the numbers: pregnancy is not always easy.

Due to the sheer number of people on earth, it seems that everybody is able to get pregnant. For the orcas, dwindling populations and low birth rates make the death of a calf even more poignant.

For humans, however, the struggles of a mother when she is trying to conceive and maintain her pregnancy are often overshadowed. Unlike the mother orca’s tour, many people are not so open about their difficulties with fertility and childbirth.


Everyone copes with grief differently. Whether mourning a stillbirth, miscarriage, or infertility problems, the best way to begin healing is to realize you are neither alone nor at fault.

The emotions surrounding these events and any hormonal shifts can amplify feelings of depression or intense grief. Sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and distancing yourself from loved ones are all common.

Some steps to overcoming frustration and grief are to accept the help of those around you, come to terms with what has happened, and create plans for the future.

For mothers who have lost a child, the grief becomes something they may carry indefinitely, like Tahlequah. Although she carried her child on her back for weeks, she eventually let go so she could be part of her pod again.

Allow yourself time to mourn, but also make time for yourself again.


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