On looking, and love

Did captivity save the killer whale?

For seventeen days this summer a killer whale known as Tahlequah carried the body of her dead calf through the steel-blue Pacific waters of the Salish Sea, the shared, coastal waters off British Columbia and Washington state. She nosed her baby above the chop, sometimes gently mouthing her flipper, diving deep to retrieve her whenever she lost her grip. Orcas have been known to carry their deceased young for hours at a time, sometimes even a day, in what scientists acknowledge are expressions of grief. But nothing like Tahlequah’s heartbreaking fifteen-hundred-kilometre journey of sorrow had ever been observed. It captured the world’s attention. To some, that seemed to be the intent.

The unusually attentive matriarch is among the seventy-four remaining southern resident killer whales who summer in the Salish Sea. They’re dying at an alarming pace, with starvation the main cause: local stocks of Chinook salmon...