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Granny (orca)

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J2 Granny
Granny Orca.jpg
Species Killer whale (Orcinus orca)
Breed Southern resident killer whale
Sex Female
Born c. 1911
Died c. October–December 2016 (age about 105)
east Pacific Ocean
Known for Long life
Residence Northeast Pacific Ocean, coastal bays of Washington and British Columbia
Offspring J1 Ruffles
Appearance Gray "saddle patch" behind dorsal fin; half-moon notch in dorsal fin
Named after Her long life

Granny (born c. 1911, presumed dead between October–December 2016), also known as J2, was an orca (killer whale). She was estimated by some whale researchers to have been 105 years old (with a margin of error of 12 years).[1][2] If correct, this age would make her the oldest known orca at the time of her death.[3][4][5][6] A member of the endangered southern resident killer whale population, Granny lived in the northeast Pacific Ocean and coastal bays of Washington state and British Columbia. Granny was estimated to have been born in 1911.[7] She was last seen on October 12, 2016, and was considered deceased by The Center for Whale Research in January 2017.[8][2]


The unique dorsal fin of J2 Granny, showing her half-moon notch, taken as she swam through Haro Strait in Washington State in 2007

Granny was recognizable from the gray "saddle patch" just behind her dorsal fin, and a half-moon notch in her fin. Simon Pidcock of Ocean EcoVentures said he had seen Granny thousands of times, and that the markings on orca fins were like fingerprints.[4]

Granny had been captured with the rest of her pod in 1967 but was too old at that time for a marine mammal park and so was released.[9][10]

Now that orca studies have been conducted for several decades, the exact age of many whales is known. The age of older orcas, such as Granny, is estimated by their offspring; they give birth around age 15, and stop having offspring around 40; by adding the generations together, ages can be estimated.[11] There are also photographs of Granny from the 1930s and the size and growth of Granny and the other orcas has also been used in the age estimates.[4] Granny was photographed in 1971 with a male orca, J1 Ruffles, who was thought to be her son. Ruffles was estimated as at least 20 years old, and as scientists believed him to be Granny's last offspring, her own age was estimated at about 60.[7] Granny's age was estimated with a margin of error of 12 years,[12] but was the subject of an academic dispute in 2016.[13]

J pod[edit]

Granny, along with several of her descendants, travelled in the J pod, a group of about 25 orcas.[14] J pod, along with Pods K and L, are the "J clan", which constitute the entire southern resident killer whale population. They frequent the inland waters of British Columbia and Washington State in the summer months, but roam from southeast Alaska to central California. They have completed a journey as far as 800 miles (1,300 km) in a week.[14] As the oldest female in J pod, Granny would have been considered its leader.[15]

A well-known male orca thought to be Granny's son is J1 Ruffles. He was last seen in 2010.[7] As of 2012, following the disappearance of J1 Ruffles, none of Granny's immediate children are known to be living.[15] However, Granny had multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren who travelled in the pod with her.[14]

The southern resident killer whales are the most studied population of orcas in the world. Many whales in this population were captured in the 1960s and 1970s for use in sea parks, and others were killed by hunters attempting to capture them.[10] The southern resident orcas are the smallest of four resident communities from the Northeastern portion of the Pacific Ocean. It is the only orca population listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and as of 2005 this group is protected under the Endangered Species Act.[16]


As the longest living known orca, Granny is employed as an example in arguments against keeping whales in captivity, referencing the allegedly reduced lifespan of captive animals.[17] The oldest orca in captivity is the 50-year-old Lolita who is at the Miami Seaquarium. The average lifespan for a captured orca is 20 to 30 years.[18] Of Granny's age, Captain Pidcock of Ocean Ecoventures Whale Watching said "[...] 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?"[7]

Granny was also used as a focal point of environmental efforts that resulted in the Endangered Species Act protections for orca. Environmentalists estimate that Granny may have had a PCB load of up to 100 parts per million, and that her descendants' reproductive systems may have been damaged by exposure to pollution.[10] Additionally, declining West Coast salmon populations put Granny and her family at risk.

Granny was featured in a children's book on orcas by Sally Hodson titled Granny's Clan: A Tale of Wild Orcas.[19]

Shortly after Granny's death was announced, BBC Radio 4's Inside Science discussed the insights into killer whales and their social lives which the prolonged observations of Granny and her pod had revealed.[20]

Granny is the subject of a short documentary film.[21] The Hundred Year Old Whale will be released in 2017 by filmmaker Mark Leiren-Young, the author of The Killer Whale Who Changed The World.

Orca lifespan[edit]

Estimates of lifespans for wild orcas vary. SeaWorld says wild lifespans are 30–50 years for females, and 19–30 years for males.[22] These estimates depart from the findings of a 2005 study, which pegged the mean age of females at 45.8 years and males at 31.0 during the period between 1973 and 1996.[23] Marine conservation groups argue that even these estimates are low due to the effects of hunting, pollution, and capture on the wild populations, and that natural wild orca lifespans are equivalent to that of humans, with male orcas living up to 75 years and female orcas living up to 80 years.[24]


  1. ^ "Oldest Puget Sound Orca, 'Granny,' Missing and Presumed Dead". ABC News. Retrieved January 3, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Tegna. "Oldest Southern Resident killer whale considered dead". Retrieved January 3, 2017. 
  3. ^ Bender, Kelli. "Granny, World's Oldest Orca, Returns to Home Waters at 103 Years Old : Mobile". Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Luba, Frank (May 12, 2014). "B.C.'s matriarch orca 'Granny' is still going strong at 103". Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  5. ^ Ellison, Jake (May 12, 2014). "Oldest living orca ‘Granny’ visits NW over Mother’s Day weekend – The Big Science Blog". Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Orca 'Granny,' 103, comes home for Mother's Day – British Columbia". CBC News. Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d Woollaston, Victoria (September 17, 2013). "Her Heart Still Goes On: Killer whale called 'Granny' born the year before the TITANIC sank is the oldest in the world aged 103". The Daily Mail. Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Center for Whale Research". Center for Whale Research. Retrieved January 3, 2017. 
  9. ^ "Hi Granny! World's oldest wild orca spotted off BC coast is probably older than your granny". Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c Lyke, M. L. "Granny's Struggle: When Granny is gone, will her story be the last chapter? –". Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  11. ^ Ohlheiser, Abby. "Spotted: Granny, the 103-Year-Old Killer Whale and Her Family". The Wire. Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Killer whale named 'Granny', who at 105-years-old is older than the Titanic, spotted in Pacific". The Telegraph. August 5, 2016. Retrieved August 6, 2016. 
  13. ^ Robeck, Todd R.; Willis, Kevin; Scarpuzzi, Michael R.; O'Brien, Justine K. (8 March 2016). "Survivorship pattern inaccuracies and inappropriate anthropomorphism in scholarly pursuits of killer whale ( Orcinus orca ) life history: a response to Franks et al. (2016)". Journal of Mammalogy. 97 (3): 899–905. doi:10.1093/jmammal/gyw023. 
  14. ^ a b c "Killer Whales: The Natural History and Genealogy of Orcinus Orca in British Columbia". 
  15. ^ a b Douglas, John (2012). ""The Resident Orcas Of J-Pod"". 
  16. ^ "Killer whale (Orcinus orca)". NOAA. 
  17. ^ Kirby, David. Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity. 
  18. ^ Petrescu, Sarah (May 14, 2014). "World's oldest known killer whale seen off B.C. coast". Calgary Herald. Times Colonist. Retrieved January 5, 2017. 
  19. ^ Hodson, Sally (2012). Granny's clan: a tale of wild orcas (1st ed.). Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications. ISBN 9781584691716. 
  20. ^ Presenter: Adam Rutherford; Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker (5 January 2017). "RIP Granny the oldest Orca – Graphene + Silly Putty – Moving a Giant Magnet – Space in 2017". Inside Science. 0:55 minutes in. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  21. ^ "The Hundred Year Old Whale". IMDB. Retrieved February 14, 2017. 
  22. ^ "Lifespan". SeaWorld Cares. 
  23. ^ Olesiuk, Peter F.; Ellis, Graeme M.; Ford, John K.B. (2005). "Life History and Population Dynamics of Northern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in British Columbia" (PDF). Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat. 
  24. ^ Howard Garrett. "Welcome to Orca Network". Welcome to Orca Network.