SEATTLE – The oldest Southern Resident killer whale is considered dead, according to the Center for Whale Research.
Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research, shared photos and typed a tribute on New Year’s Eve. It was his goodbye to Granny, the oldest southern resident killer whale. The Orca, part of J-pod, was also known as J2.
Balcomb noted that he first became acquainted with her in 1976, and last saw her on Oct. 12, 2016. By year's end, J2 was officially missing.
"With regret, we now consider her deceased," wrote Balcomb.
Michael Harris, with Orca Conservancy, first saw J2 more than 30 years ago.
"What struck me about J2 is that J2 is somewhere between 80 and over 100 years old,” said Harris. “She was still traveling 100 miles a day. She was still leading that group."
Harris says the population was down to 77 animals in 2014. Then there were ten births within 13 months, and a lot of those births were in J-pod.
"I couldn't say that any of those animals would have survived had it not been for that extended care, that extended family, that village that J2 led," said Harris.
Five Orcas died in 2016 – four in the J-pod, and one in the L-pod. The population is now estimated to be 78, according to Balcomb.
Harris sees a reason for concern especially as salmon -- a key food source -- has been hard to find.
"If we can fatten these whales up, if we can put salmon in the water, build some blubber on these whales, it buys us time," he said.
He says time is needed to recover the population that was led by Granny for so many years.
"Let's celebrate Granny's life and let's look at her as maybe some hope," said Harris.
Photos: J-2, called Granny