Whale watchers were treated to an exciting spectacle on Friday when they spotted J2, who is more affectionately known as “Granny,” the oldest known orca in the world.
Granny, who was spotted by members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA), is estimated by the Center for Whale Research to be 103-years-old. By all accounts, the matriarch is still looking healthy and strong. Just over a week ago, Granny was believed to be with her pod near the Russian River in Northern California, which means she traveled an estimated 800 miles with her family in about a week.
The great grandmother is a member of the J-pod and southern resident group of orcas, who live in Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca during the summer months and migrate to the open ocean in the winter.
“We were thrilled to see her. And it’s mind-blowing to think that this whale is over 100 years old. She was born before the Titanic went down. Can you imagine the things she’s seen in her lifetime?” said Capt. Simon Pidcock of Ocean EcoVentures.
Granny’s history hasn’t just fascinated and inspired whale advocates who have celebrated her life, it has also shown the resilience of orcas and a pod that has, and continues to face, numerous threats, along with crushing some of the captivity industry’s claims about what we know about orcas.
SeaWorld, for one, has claimed that we don’t know how long orcas live and “the most recent science suggests that the life spans of killer whales at SeaWorld are comparable to those in the wild,” previously citing lifespans at 20-25 years. Yet, we clearly have a pretty good idea about how long the live in the wild and it far exceeds how long they live in a tank.
The PWWA’s executive director Michael Harris, explained to the Seattle Post Intelligencer that, “The average lifespan of a wild orca is between 60 and 80 years, and yet the Southern Residents – despite being listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act – have some extraordinary longevity stories, including the female K7, or Lummi, who died in 2008 at the age of 98. Another Southern Resident female, L25, or Ocean Sun, is thought to be 85 years old.”
According to Stefan Jacobs, who put together the numbers for the Center for Whale Research, “Of the 159 captive killer whales that have died, more than 2/3 didn’t make it past 10 years in captivity. Less than 30 orcas survived more than 20 years in captivity. Average time in captivity has improved steadily over the decades, but is still very low.”
Granny somehow survived the era of captures when family members were taken from the wild for display and has shown us all what can happen when we leave them be in the wild. Orcas like Lolita and Corky, the last surviving orcas who were captured were not so lucky. Both are still living in tanks at the Miami Seaquarium and SeaWorld San Diego, respectively, while their advocates continue to fight to get them out.
While most wild orcas might not live to reach Granny’s impressive age, they should have the opportunity to enjoy what time they do have wild and free in the ocean with their families where they belong.
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