For those familiar with the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs) of the Pacific Northwest, Granny was a hero. Granny, also known as J2, was the matriarch of J-pod and lived her life as a caregiver and teacher to her younger pod mates.
Today, Ken Balcomb of Center for Whale Research, wrote in Memoriam of Granny. She was last seen October 12, 2016 and is presumed dead. Balcomb recalls the first time he saw her, April 12, 1976. He was in his third week of the “Killer Whale Study in Puget Sound and Environs” looking for orcas not previously identified by Mike Biggs. Biggs had just begun to ID SRKWs using the shape of their dorsal fins and saddle patch. Forty years later, the same method is still used today.
Balcomb goes on to say:
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. In 1987 we estimated that she was at least 45 years old and was more likely to have been 76 years old (the oldest SRKW at the time, and the presumed mother of J1). And, she kept on going, like the energizer bunny. 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. 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 SRKW population, and with regret we now consider her deceased. The SRKW population is now estimated to be 78 as of 31 December 2016, and J pod contains only 24 individuals plus the wandering L87. 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?
Howard Garrett of Orca Network remembers Granny in an email stating, “J2 Granny was no doubt the most revered and loved orca in her extended family, certainly by her human followers and no doubt also by her family. The Southern Residents are her clan, and they will now remember the wisdom she passed on to them. She was their elder matriarch, their guide and counsel, the keeper of cultural traditions developed over thousands of generations and passed on to the hundreds of family members who have lived in her time.”
Granny’s profile at The Whale Museum states her estimated birth year is 1911. She was believed to be the oldest female in J, K, and L pods at over 105 years! She was the matriarch of the Southern Resident Community, known as J Clan. Granny was also one of the whales in the "Free Willy" movies.
She was a known caretaker of L87, Onyx, as Balcomb states above following the death of his mother.
I had the privilege of seeing Granny during my first visit to Friday Harbor in 2014. I will cherish her memory forever.
Photo by Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News