Lessons from Tahlequah and Her Community

The story of the Orca called J35 or Tahlequah carrying her dead calf continues to pop up in my newsfeed and in my mind. I am not an animal advocate or researcher so why does it matter to me? We all see through our own lens. Some see this story and what it means for these endangered species and our environment. But because of my love for our FGP Stargazers, my lens is grief focused. I am fascinated by how her family has made certain she is fed, has supported her need to carry this baby with her and even helped to carry the baby.
I imagine the whales saying to each other, “She really needs to move on, don’t you think? I mean it’s been more than 10 days!” but instead of deciding they can no longer support her through it, they stick it out, they swim beside her, help her with the weight of it and allow her to do what she needs to do even though it is not what has been done in the past by other family members but what she needs to do. We don’t know what is happening in her head but I can’t help but think we know what is happening in her heart. I am drawn into this story because even though this isn’t how it is usually done in their community and even though her grief looks different than those who have faced it in the past, the others are still willing to stay by her side. Even the humans who are watching aren’t concerned about her inability to move on even though scientists have noted that her behavior is unprecedented, . Instead, they are simply keeping a close eye on her and hoping that she is getting enough food and noting her exhaustion as she moves through this experience.

I am drawn to this because it relates because I am a mother but also because in grief I see our Stargazers. I see every Stargazer in this whale. She is exhausted but she keeps swimming. She doesn’t want to ever let her baby go. She is forgetting to take care of herself because of the weight of her grief, but those around her rally, they support her and they make sure she is fed.

I think there are lessons to be learned from the orca’s community and the scientists who are observing her. Swim beside her but don’t interfere. Watch her but don’t insist she let go. Help nurture her but allow her to continue to grieve. When she needs it, swim closer and help carry the weight. Be quiet and let her know you are there watching if she needs anything.