The Center for Whale Research has revealed that the oldest known orca is considered dead.
J2 Granny Not Spotted Since October Last Year
Researchers do not know the actual age of the orca dubbed "J2 Granny" but she is estimated to be between 80 and 105 years old.
When whale researchers spotted Granny in the summer of 2016, they considered the orca to be in high spirit but she was missing from the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) group J pod by the end of the year.
Researchers think that the whale that swam in the seas near Washington State possibly passed away as she has not been seen with the J group for the last three months.
The center's executive director Kenneth Balcomb said that they have seen J2 thousands of times over the past 40 years. The orca was also observed in recent years leading the J pod virtually everytime she was spotted but it has been a while since she was seen. The Center for Whale Research said that Granny was last spotted in October and the center now considers her deceased.
"I last saw her on October 12, 2016 as she swam north in Haro Strait far ahead of the others. Perhaps other dedicated whale-watchers have seen her since then, but by year's end she is officially missing from the SRKW population, and with regret we now consider her deceased," wrote Balcomb.
One Of World's Longest-Living Killer Whales
Granny was considered among the world's longest-living orcas until she was considered dead. She is one of the few "resident" whales that researchers do not precisely know the age because she was born long before studies started.
"We knew this day would come, and each year that she returned with the rest of J pod brought us closer to this inevitable moment," the Center for Whale Research said. "With heavy hearts we have to say goodbye to yet another southern resident, perhaps the most loved and known to all and the oldest orca to date."
Three populations of killer whales are known to be in the northeast Pacific. Members of Granny's group has seen their population decline and the orcas are considered as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Ripe Old Age
The lifespan of orcas range between 60 and 80 years old but South Residents live extraordinarily long. The female K7 or Lumni, which passed away in 2008 was 98 years old at the time of her death, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA). L2, or Ocean Sun, also Southern Resident is believed to be 85 years old.
Declining Orca Populations
As of Dec. 31, the SRKW population is estimated to number 78 and the J pod has 24 individuals plus a wandering orca called L87.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that declines in orca population may be associated with threats that include toxic pollution and noise caused by boat traffic. The killer whales also depend on healthy populations of salmon, particularly Chinook, which are also declining.