Granny the orca breaching
Photo by Heather MacIntyre

World’s oldest known orca, Granny, pops up in the Pacific Northwest

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To scientists, she’s known as J2, but to the rest of the world, she’s Granny. The world’s oldest known living orca, estimated to be 105 years old (she was born the year before the Titanic set sail) was spotted off the coast of Sooke, BC, this summer. She was part of a pod of 25 orcas who were swimming alongside a couple of humpback whales.

Granny was first spotted in 1971, when she was an estimated 60 years old, and orca enthusiasts have been tracking her ever since. She was last seen in 2014, so it was a thrill for whale-watchers to find her still alive and kicking this July, identifying her by a gray patch behind her dorsal fin.

Photographer Heather MacIntyre captured several photos of the orcas breaching, writing on the blog of the Orca Network, “They sure seemed to be in high spirits.”

Some scientists see Granny’s age as evidence that orcas in the wild have vastly longer lifespans than orcas in captivity, even though they have to survive natural and man-made threats. The executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, Michael Harris, told the Nature World News, ” These Pacific Northwest orcas certainly have great genes. I’m sure the pressures we put on them have made them resilient. They’re problem solvers, survivors. We’ve taken away their food and trashed their homes. We’ve done all sorts of awful things to them, and yet here they are—and here’s Granny, still out front, still running the family.”

Granny is a matriarch of her pod, known as the J-pod. Research has shown that matriarchs play a vital role, providing support and stability for the other members of the pod for decades after their reproductive abilities end, which means Granny is still a very important member of the group she travels with, despite (or perhaps because of) her age.

One thing’s for sure: as an incredibly spry and fun-loving 105-year-old, Granny is an inspiration to all of us when it comes to aging gracefully.

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