World-Famous Orca, Granny, Presumed Dead

World-Famous Orca, Granny, Presumed Dead Orca Kenai Fjords National Park / Flickr Public Domain

Whale watchers fear that Granny, known as the world’s oldest orca, is presumed dead. She was last seen on October 12, 2016 swimming in Haro Strait as she leads her pod.

With her distinct characteristics, Granny is considered one of the world’s well-documented southern resident killer whales, or Orcas. Since the 1970s, the Center for Whale Research started tracking Granny when she led a pod through the Pacific Northwest.

How Old Was She?

On December 31, the Center published a memoriam of Granny, which saddened those who have closely followed her. Granny or J2’s age remained subject of debates among whale experts, but a consensus agrees that she is the oldest.

As reported by the National Geographic, a 1987 study suggested that she is probably around 105 years old. Another research using a biopsy analysis on J2 claims she is around the age of 60 to 80.

One of the reasons scientists could not possibly identify her age was because she was already at her 40s when the Center started research on whales. But apart from the presumed old age, Granny’s command to her pod has also caught scientists’ attention.

A Blow To Whale Conservation

Granny’s death underpins the problem of whale conservation efforts, which is threatened by the species’ declining population. Today, there are roughly 78 southern resident killer whales cruising parts of the pacific.

The J pod, where Granny was leading, only comprised of 24 individuals and the wandering individual named as L87. J2’s death would also mean that her pod loses a leader; it plays a significant role in their species’ survival.

“To whom will he attach now? Who will lead the pod into the future? Is there a future without food? What will the human leaders do?” asked Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research.

Balcomb first photographed Granny on April 12, 1978 in Admiralty Inlet, Puget Sound.