This orca carried her dead newborn’s body for 17 days two years ago. Now, she’s pregnant again

An orca that brought the plight of her struggling family to the world’s attention by carrying her dead newborn’s body for 17 days is pregnant once again

Drone footage taken by the marine research organization SR3 shows that J35, a 22-year-old southern resident killer whale, is pregnant.

It’s a hopeful sign to whale researchers who have been following the endangered orcas’ decline for decades. There are 72 orcas left in the population that lives off the coast of British Columbia and Washington.

Deborah Giles, a scientist with the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology, said she hopes J35 will give birth to a healthy calf, despite all the challenges the whales face.

The southern resident orcas are facing a triple threat of toxic waters, noise pollution and dwindling food sources.

“It’s a lot for a young animal to deal with,” said Giles, who also volunteers with the advocacy group Wild Orca.

J35 also recently became the matriarch of her family after her mother, J17, died last summer. Matriarchs have added responsibilities such as guiding their family to feeding grounds and sharing food with younger members, Giles said.

“I think she can do it. She’s a resilient animal, obviously. She’s got a lot of will to live, and I think if anyone can pull it off, she can.”

Still, the odds are against her.

Seven out of 10 southern resident orca pregnancies fail due to a lack of food, according to a 2017 study out of the University of Washington. The mothers either suffer a miscarriage, or the baby dies within days after birth — something J35 experienced in 2018 with her most recent calf.

A release from SR3, a non-profit that collects data on the orcas’ body condition by using drone imagery, states that several individuals from all three southern resident pods are pregnant.