The death was not just a singular loss suffered by Tahlequah: It has actually been three years since any orcas of the endangered southern resident killer whales — which includes J Pod, K Pod and L Pod — have given birth to healthy calves. Overfishing and damming rivers have severely depleted Chinook salmon, the main food source for these orcas, and this lack of food has made Tahlequah and her family and friends dangerously weak. This group of orcas previously suffered losses in the 1970s, when SeaWorld and other marine parks took a generation of baby orcas for display in tanks.
"J35's ecosystem is at dire risk because of our activities," Barbara J. King, professor of anthropology at the College of William & Mary and author of "How Animals Grieve," told The Dodo last week, after she confirmed that Tahlequah's behavior appeared to be a mourning process. "It is we who have dammed the rivers, polluted and overfished the waters, and it is up to us to act to help."