For 17 days, the orca mother carried her dead baby off the coast of Vancouver Island. People around the world watched, transfixed, as she refused to let her calf drop into the Salish Sea, even as its body grew lighter and lighter with each passing day. Sometimes, the calf would slip off as she swam. Then the whale - known as J35 to researchers but Tahlequah to the rest of us - would dive, scoop her baby up and lift it to the surface. When she grew tired, other whales in her pod carried the baby for her.
I work in a Seattle newsroom, and for more than two weeks, we were on a kind of vigil. Orcas are not only a symbol of our state and an indicator of the health of our waters; they are also animals we feel a certain kinship with. Day after day, we discussed what angle to pursue next on the baby orca story.