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Killer Whale Who Carried Dead Calf 2 Years Ago Is Pregnant Again

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now to some celebrity news. New photos have emerged of Tahlequah with a baby bump.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

She was spotted swimming in the waters of Puget Sound near Washington state. She does this frequently. Tahlequah is an orca, also known as a killer whale.

SHAPIRO: The orcas of the Pacific Northwest are endangered. There are only about 73 left. It's not that unusual to spot pregnant ones. What makes this special is Tahlequah.

CHANG: Two years ago, she gave birth to a calf. It died about a half hour later. What happened next made her world-famous. She kept its body afloat next to her and just kept swimming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORCA SOUNDING)

SHAPIRO: That's when Jenny Atkinson of The Whale Museum spoke with the public radio program Here & Now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENNY ATKINSON: She carried this for 17 months before it was born. And we know that it swam by her side, so there would have been a bonding. So there's a part of me that believes that the grief could be much deeper because they had bonded.

CHANG: By the time Tahlequah ended her vigil, it had been 17 days of honoring her dead calf, which is why it's notable that she now has another shot at motherhood.

SHAPIRO: John Durban is a senior research scientist with Southall Environmental Associates. He's been tracking this pod of killer whales for 12 years.

JOHN DURBAN: We noninvasively fly a drone over the whales - high up over them, over a hundred feet high - take photographs. And from those photographs, we can track the body condition, how fat they are. And then the other thing we can do is identify when they're pregnant.

CHANG: Durban and his fellow scientists recently spotted a clearly pregnant Tahlequah, which gives him some cautious optimism.

SHAPIRO: He says two-thirds of these pregnancies are not successful. There is pollution, boats and severe shortages of the salmon that these whales eat.

CHANG: So to whale watchers and recreational boaters, John Durban says, give the orcas some space.

DURBAN: And we can try and be precautionary and give these whales as much space as we can so that - so they can forage as efficiently as possible and try and capture as many fish as they need to reproduce.

SHAPIRO: And Tahlequah isn't the only whale in the area that's pregnant. Another one named Racer is even closer to giving birth.

DURBAN: I think this is a glimmer of hope in times for this population that have been quite dire in recent years. That's why any possible calf is really exciting.

(SOUNDBITE OF OSKAR SCHUSTER'S "FJARLAEGUR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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