Artist captures 'visceral' grief of killer whale holding dead calf in viral painting

A Washington State artist's painting of J-35 — the southern resident killer whale that has been keeping its dead calf afloat for over a week — has struck a chord with thousands of people gripped by the story.

Lori Christopher's watercolour painting, See Me, has been shared more than 8,500 times on Facebook since the artist posted it on Wednesday.

Christopher, of Hat Island, north of Seattle in the Salish Sea, said she was moved by J-35's story and later inspired to reflect it in her art.

"Her grief was so visceral … and had gone on for so many days that it was more of a cry out for help," Christopher said, adding it was almost as if the whale was trying to get our attention.

"When she's raising it above the water it becomes clear that she's grieving and she needs help. They all need help."

The painting depicts the heartbroken mother J-35 — also known as Tahlequa — holding its calf above the water with a look of determination on its face as the dead offspring is draped, discoloured, over its snout. Other whales of the pod look on with faces expressing concern or uncertainty.

'Everything is on the table'

Christopher says it's critical that action be taken to save the remaining southern resident killer whales.

She hopes by raising awareness and creating an emotional connection to J-35 with her art, that might happen.

As of Thursday, J-35 was still with its dead calf, Fisheries and Oceans Canada marine mammal coordinator Paul Cottrell said.

He told On The Coast guest host Angela Sterritt that researchers spent Friday trying to find it to check up on it. Another priority is recovering the body of the calf to conduct a necropsy.

The DFO has said it will reduce the total chinook salmon fishery removal by 25 to 35 per cent to increase food for the orcas. Cottrell said "everything is on the table" when it comes to protecting the whales.

"There's definitely lots going on on the research and management side," Cottrell said. "It's kind of a multi-prong approach because you … have to look at all of the potential threats to recovery."

Listen to the full interview with Lori Christopher:

Listen to the full interview with Paul Cottrell:

With files from Jean Paetkau and CBC Radio One's On The Coast

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