Shortly after J35 — also known as Tahlequah — gave birth last Tuesday in the Salish Sea, off the coast of Washington, she and her baby were seen swimming together.
But this joyful moment was all too short — by the time researchers from the Center for Whale Research (CWR) arrived to document the new baby, the calf had already died.
At first, other members of the pod were seen gathering around Tahlequah as she dove under the body of her baby to keep it from sinking and lifted it up repeatedly onto her back.
"A group of five to six females gathered at the mouth of the cove in a close, tight-knit circle, staying at the surface in a harmonious circular motion for nearly two hours," a resident of San Juan Island told CWR. "As the light dimmed, I was able to watch them continue what seemed to be a ritual or ceremony. They stayed directly centered in the moonbeam, even as it moved.”