I’m not a big fan of denial, but today I’m waiting to hear that someone out there on the Salish Sea has spotted the matriarch of the Southern Resident orcas breaching in the starlight. Resident orcas rarely leave their pods, but maybe at the age of 105 Granny felt like some “me” time.
The Center for Whale Research announced today that Granny was last spotted Oct. 12th. They waited until January 2nd (J2) to share the news that she is “missing and presumed dead.” Weighing in at several tons, Granny (J2) would be the biggest celebrity death of a year that seemed toxic to A-listers.
I’m in post-production on a documentary I directed about Granny called The Hundred Year Old Whaleand just over a year ago our star put on a magical performance for us. The first night we were out filming on the water Granny swam up to our boat and slapped her tail, spy-hopped and breached — on camera. Apparently, she decided that after over a century it was time for her close-up.
I’m launching a podcast soon to share stories or our orcas and our oceans, but tonight I just wanted to share a link to memories of Granny from Ken Balcomb – a man who has been watching Granny and her family for the Center for Whale Research – for all of us — since the 1970s. Ken’s license plate reads “J1 RIP” – a dedication to Ruffles, the whale he believed to be Granny’s son or, possibly, brother.
There’s some debate over Granny’s age – was she really born the same year humans finished building the hull of The Titanic? We’ll never know. But no one doubts she’s a very old whale (even skeptics guess her age at near 80), which likely makes her the oldest orca on the planet. And a vibrant one. For the last few years she has been the constant companion of a male whale from LPod, Onyx. Male whales seldom live for long without a mother by their side, so this doesn’t bode well for L87.
If Granny is truly gone hers would be the fifth death in the Southern Resident family since this summer, leaving the world with only 78 orcas left from this unique community. This is a community with their own cultural traditions – their own languages — that dates back hundreds of thousands of years. And as the first orcas ever taken captive, these are the whales that helped the world fall in love with whales.
I’m not prepared to write “RIP J2” yet. For now I’ll pray for her to surface. And I’ll hope that her story inspires people to do what’s needed to protect the rest of her family and all the other orcas in the Salish Sea.
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