The world’s oldest known killer whale – J2, or affectionately known as “Granny” — is missing and presumed dead.
Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research says in a statement that “Granny” is missing and is presumed dead.
Balcomb writes that it’s believed Granny had been seen thousands of times over the last 40 years and most recently had been the leader.
Granny, scientifically cataloged as J2, is believed to have been born in 1911 – a year before the sinking of the Titanic – but a precise birthday is impossible to determine. The cause of her death is believed to be old age.
She’s the sixth known member of J Pod to have died in 2016, reducing the pod’s number to 24. (J Pod is one of three Southern Resident pods, whose overall number is now just 78.)
The average lifespan for wild female killer whales, which live longer than males, is 50-60 years.
The most serious issue facing the Southern Residents is salmon, the chief prey source for the orcas. As salmon runs have diminished, thanks largely to dams and other development projects, so have Southern Resident killer whale numbers.
The venerable Granny, because of her omnipresence and skills as a salmon hunter, had become a favorite among regional whale-watching operations, and researchers. She survived the era of live captures for marine parks, and was the subject of a recent BBC documentary.
Said Balcomb to BBC News: “In recent years her world has changed dramatically with dwindling salmon stocks and increases in shipping, threatening the survival of this incredible population. Although J2 is gone we will continue to benefit for many decades to come, from the incredible data collected on her life over the last 40 years by the Center for Whale Research.”
Melisa Pinnow, a naturalist for San Juan Excursions and a Center for Whale Research employee, tried to put Granny’s death into perspective:
“It has been years since we have had a Southern Resident die of old age. She likely did not go prematurely like almost everyone else has in recent years. She lived a long life, like every Southern Resident should but often does not get the opportunity to because of us.
“I am happy she lived as long as she did and hope other Southern Residents are able to do the same in the future. Granny will always be missed.”