Whale researchers had an extra happy Mother’s Day on news that the world’s oldest known orca has survived another year.
J2, also known as "Granny," estimated by The Center for Whale Research to be 103 years old, was sighted Friday by Pacific Whale Watch Association crews.
The matriarch of the Southern Resident Community is believed to have been with her pod just eight days ago off the coast of California near the mouth of the Russian River.
"And then yesterday we see her cruising through Boundary Pass on her way to Bellingham. That's a distance of about 800 miles covered in a little over a week," said Michael Harris, Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association. "Not bad for a great-grandmother. This is wonderful news - just in time for Mother's Day."
"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 out of Cowichan Bay, BC.
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.
The Southern Resident orca Tokitae, or Lolita, now in Miami Seaquarium, and the Northern Resident orca Corky in SeaWorld San Diego - both about 50 - are the oldest killer whales in captivity. They are the last surviving orcas captured from the region for marine parks.
"These Pacific Northwest orcas certainly have great genes," said Harris. "I'm sure the pressures we put on them have made them resilient. They're problem solvers, survivors. We've taken away their food and trashed their homes. We've done all sorts of awful things to them, and yet here they are - and here's Granny, still out front, still running the family. It gives us hope that we can still turn this ship around and save them from this extinction slide. It shows that if we give these whales a little help, they'll do a lot with it."