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Granny, the world’s oldest orca, presumed dead

Granny the orca breaching

This past summer, we wrote about Granny, the world’s oldest known orca, when she was spotted alive and well with her pod off the coast of B.C. Unfortunately, since then, her pod has been spotted several times without her, and whale researchers believe the 105-year-old whale has died.

Granny, known to the scientific community as J2, was the matriarch of the J-pod, a role which involved sharing her life experience with younger whales and helping them find food and raise their young. The J-pod, which lives in the Pacific Northwest region, is made up of Southern Resident Orcas, the only population of orcas classified as being endangered. There are just three pods of Southern Resident Orcas in existence (the J, K, and L pods), which have a total population of about eighty whales.

Granny was believed to have been born around 1911, but as Kenneth C. Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research wrote in a post on the organization’s website, Granny was “one of only a few ‘resident’ whales for which we do not know the precise age because she was born long before our study began.” Nevertheless, scientists believed she was about in her fifties when they first encountered her in the 1970s.

Black and white photo of Granny's dorsal fin
Already, in 1976, Granny’s skin was quite weatherbeaten, but she still had four decades’ worth of life left in her.

The South Resident Orcas have had a difficult year. While eight calves were born in 2015, six whales died in 2016, including two of the calves. Scientists say the main reasons for the deaths are pollutions in the whales’ water and food and a shortage of chinook salmon, the orcas’ main food source.

Granny’s long life has been used to argue against keeping whales in captivity. Whales in captivity live much shorter lives than their wild counterparts, often dying before the age of twenty-five years.

While we’ll miss her, we’re glad that Granny lived a long life with her family, and we wish J-pod luck in continuing on with the knowledge she imparted to them.