103-years-old and she's still the leader - a whale tale

Granny (left) and orphan whale Onyx - photo by Simon Pidcock, Victoria Times Colonist
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She's 103-years-old and still the leader. Sighting a whale off the bow when sailing is always a thrill (as long as it isn't too close) but sighting the oldest whale in the world was a 'blown away' experience for the 12 people on board when Simon Pidcock of Ocean EcoVentures spotted and recognised 'Granny' and her orphan whale assistant 'Onyx'.

Granny was spotted leading her pod foraging in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the American mainland last week.

The matriarch of southern resident killer whale J-Pod who is known as 'Granny' has an official name of J2, and is estimated to be around 103 years old.

'It's great news she's back, another year older, and thriving,' Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association told the Victoria Times Colonist. There are roughly 80 southern residents and they are listed as endangered in Canada and the U.S.

At the time of being spotted she was leading around 25 other whales with the male orphan known as Onyx

'I've seen Granny in these parts about 1,000 times over 13 years,' said Pidcock. 'She looked really healthy and playful. It was good to see them foraging, finding fish here.'

'It surprises people when they realize this whale was around before the Titanic sank. She's lived through fishing changes and live captures of whales. I would love to know what she thinks,' said Pidcock.

The lifespan of a wild orca is generally 60 to 80 years, but the southern residents might have longevity in their genes. K-Pod's Lummi died in 2008 at the age of 98 and L-Pod's Ocean Sun is thought to be 85 years old.

'Granny was caught in 1967 but was already too old for the sea parks so she was let go,' added Ken Balcomb, from the Centre for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington. He's watched Granny for 37 years in a row. 'She's seen it all; people shooting at her, the salmon disappear.'

Balcomb said age doesn't seem to be wearing her down. 'She's like an Energizer Bunny.'

While Granny can make an 1,300-kilometre food run from California, where she was just over a week ago, she shouldn't have to work so hard to eat, he said. 'The era of dam construction in the U.S. decimated the salmon supply,' Balcomb said. '[Orcas] used to be able to cherry-pick salmon runs. Now they forage for them.'
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