An orca believed to be 105-years-old was last spotted in October 2016, leading scientists to conclude that she has finally passed away.
Just days after Tilikum, an orca featured in the controversial documentary Blackfish, passed away in captivity at a SeaWorld park, word surfaced of another beloved killer whale named Granny presumably dying in the wild. According to whale expert Ken Balcomb, who founded the non-profit Centre for Whale Research (CWR) based in Washington State (1985), Granny was last seen on October 12, 2016, and hasn’t been spotted since. On the organization’s website, where he refers to her as J2, he writes:
“I last saw her on October 12, 2016, as she swam north in Haro Strait far ahead of the others. Perhaps other dedicated whale-watchers have seen her since then, but by year’s end she is officially missing from the [Southern resident killer whale] population, and with regret we now consider her deceased.”
The orca, estimated to be 105-years-old at the time of death, had an extraordinarily long run as the matriarch of a pod of whales in the Salish Sea, located between Seattle and Vancouver. Despite being decades older than the younger whales, she was often spotted overseeing the orcas in her pod and routing them to locations prevalent with food. She was reportedly easy to identify, as the matriarch had a nick on her dorsal fin and often launched her body out of the water.
Up until her death, Granny reportedly traveled up to 100 miles (161 km) a day. In fact, environmental activists often reference the elderly orca when arguing that killer whales and other aquatic animal belong in the wild, not in captivity. At present, there are three pods – called J, K, and L. – made up of approximately 80 orcas. With Granny gone, experts aren’t sure who will take over her position in pod J, which includes approximately 24 whales.
“She was quite frequently the whale in front of everyone else, leading the group,” commented Deborah Giles, CWR research director. “I’ve been getting emails from friends saying, ‘Oh my god, who’s going to lead the whales? Who will lead J pod now?’ My guess is as good as yours. We don’t really have many older females now.”
As ScienceAlert shares, Balcomb has been studying the endangered Southern resident killer whales (SRKW) since 1976. His work had helped scientists monitor the health and populations of aquatic wildlife in the Puget Sound coastal waters in the Northwest. Additionally, his research played a part in convincing the public that orca hunting is unsustainable.
“[Granny] lived through the live captures, and in recent years, her world has changed dramatically with dwindling salmon stocks and increases in shipping threatening the survival of this incredible population,” behavioral ecologist Darren Croft from the University of Exeter told BBC News. “It was inevitable that this day was going to come but it is very sad news and a further blow to this population,” he added.
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