"Two Is Enough" To Make a World of Difference

How the story of Tahlequah—aka "Two Is Enough"—can help at-risk orca whales.

Posted Aug 10, 2018

With thanks to our guest author, Michelle Rachel, who works with The Transient Killer Whale Research Project and Cetus Research & Conservation Society.

Photo by Michelle Rachel, used with permission. Michelle Rachel Photography.
L025 "Ocean Sun" and her extended family swim past the coast of Sooke, British Columbia, June 2015.
Source: Photo by Michelle Rachel, used with permission. Michelle Rachel Photography.

This week, August 8th 2018, marked sixteen days that "Tahlequah" (J035) has been carrying the body of her dead calf—a daughter. With steadfast grace in the face of what is being described even by scientists as grief and despair, she has traveled hundreds of miles through the Salish Sea, refusing to let her baby go.

Her story has struck the hearts of thousands across the world, and exposed the plight of the Southern Resident Killer Whales in a way that simply hasn’t happened before.

August 8th also marks the 48th anniversary of the infamous Penn Cove Captures, where five Southern Residents were killed, and seven more taken from their families and sold to marine parks around the world. The only surviving Southern Resident in captivity, Lolita/Tokitae has a mother, "Ocean Sun" (L025) who at the age of 90 still swims free, presumably mourning the loss of her daughter 48 years later.

Used with permission, Michelle Rachel Photography.
Rhapsody (J032) and her unborn calf receive an indigenous blessing prior to the start of her necropsy, December 2014.
Source: Used with permission, Michelle Rachel Photography.

Three years and eight months ago this week, in December 2014, the body of J032 (“Rhapsody”) washed ashore in Comox, BC. She had died while attempting to give birth to her already deceased female calf, succumbing to a systemic blood infection secondary to severe malnutrition that ultimately led to the failed pregnancy, and her own demise. It was a devastating double-blow to a population that was already struggling to reproduce at an adequate enough rate for survival.

Today, the world stands by as we await updates on the condition of little "Scarlet" (J050) - the calf whose birth (a few weeks after the death of J032 and her calf) marked the beginning of a short-lived baby boom for the Southern Resident Population. Today, J050 is close to death, severely emaciated and suffering from an infection. Scientists are about to try something that has never been done before—feeding and medicating a wild baby orca in an attempt to save her, as well as the future of her family.

With a current calf mortality rate of 100 percent in the last three years, and only 75 members remaining, the Southern Residents simply cannot afford to lose another female. Scarlet’s survival today is crucial to the future of her pod.

Used with permission, Michelle Rachel Photography.
Southern Resident members travel off the coast of Victoria, BC, August 2015.
Source: Used with permission, Michelle Rachel Photography.

For over 40 years, scientists have been working to bring light to the issues facing the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population, their desperate pleas for action to restore the Southern Resident’s prey source of wild Chinook salmon going unheard for decades. But international outrage regarding the plight of the Southern Residents has reached an all-time peak over sixteen days leading up to August 8th.

One media outlet picked up the story of Tahlequah and her baby. Then another. Then another, and another, until the story of a mother and the love for her child led to unprecedented and desperately-needed action being taken to save another dying calf—all because of the unwavering love of a mother for her child. Every mother I have spoken to regarding the story of J035 and her calf has responded in the same way:  “I understand. I wouldn’t let my baby go either.”

The stories of Tahlequah, Rhapsody, Ocean Sun, and little Scarlet are heartbreaking, but they need to upset us and shake us to our core. Above all, these mothers and their daughters have taught us that strong reactions invoke strong actions, and that is exactly what the Southern Residents need from us now.

The name “Tahlequah” was given to J035 shortly after her birth in 1998. The Cherokee meaning of the word translates to “two is enough.”

Today, we’re seeing how true that is. Two is enough to make a world of difference. The story of a mother and her daughter - who lived for less than an hour - and that mother’s powerful protest of grief, may just be enough to save another.

With thanks to our guest author, Michelle Rachel, who works with The Transient Killer Whale Research Project and Cetus Research & Conservation Society.

Please see Let's Breach for Blackfish for more information on Tahlequah and how you can help her critically endangered family.

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