Oldest southern resident orca 'Granny' has died, whale researchers say
J2, also known as 'Granny' because she was the oldest of the southern residents, is seen in this 2009 photo. (CWR/Dave Ellifrit)
Another member of the endangered southern resident killer whale population has died, according to researchers in Washington State.
J2, also known as “Granny” because she was the oldest of the southern residents, was last spotted by Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research on Oct. 12 swimming north in Haro Strait.
In a eulogy penned on the group’s website, Balcomb says J2 was considered officially missing from the population by the end of the year, and is now believed to be deceased.
It’s unclear what killed her, but the whale was estimated to be around 105 years old.
In the letter, Balcomb details his first experience seeing J2 in the wild on April 16, 1976 in Puget Sound.
“We have now seen J2 thousands of times in the past forty years, and in recent years she has been in the lead of J pod virtually every time that she has been seen by anyone,” wrote Balcomb. “She is 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.”
Her death comes just two weeks after another member of J pod, 18-year-old J34, was found dead near Sechelt from blunt force trauma.
Researchers believe the male was struck by a vessel and died from its injuries.
Four members of J pod died last year amid fears that the population is suffering from a dwindling food supply.
“The SKRW (Southern Resident Killer Whale) population is now estimated to be 78 as of Dec. 31, 2016, and J pod contains only 24 individuals plus the wandering L87,” said Balcomb. “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?”
Southern resident killer whales were placed on the endangered animals list in 2005.
Anyone who spots a marine mammal dead or in distress is asked to report to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans 24-hour hotline at 1-800-465-4336.