A killer whale dubbed "Granny," likely the oldest orca in the world, has been spotted in Pacific Ocean waters off British Columbia, conservationists report.
Officially known as orca J2, she was seen accompanied by the rest of her family in the Strait of Georgia.
The matriarch in her group, Granny is thought to be as old as 103.
Swimming with her pod of descendants tagged the J-Pod; she was recognizable from the white patch on her dorsal fin, which is distinctly different in shape and size on each orca, and from a distinguishing half-moon nick in the fin.
"It's great news she's back, another year older, and thriving," executive director Michael Harris of the Pacific Whale Watch Association said.
Granny and her 25 pod members were spotted May 2 by a group of whale-watchers aboard a boat of Simon Pidcock, who runs Ocean EcoVentures.
"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."
The lifespan of a wild orca is generally believed to be 60 to 80 years, but southern resident whales -- the smallest of four communities of orcas in the northeast Pacific Ocean -- seem to live longer, conservationists say.
The head of another pod, Lummi of K-Pod, died at age 98 and orca Ocean Sun of L-Pod is believed to be around 85.
The three pods -- J, K and L -- make up the southern resident J clan, which numbers around 80 individual orcas.
Southern resident orcas are the only population the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has listed as endangered.
"Granny was caught in 1967 but was already too old for the sea parks so she was let go," says Ken Balcomb if the Centre for Whale Research in Washington, who's been observing Granny for the past 37 years. "She's seen it all; people shooting at her, the salmon disappear."
The years of rampant dam construction in the United States has decimated the supply of salmon, a mainstay of the orca's diet, he says.
"[Orcas] used to be able to cherry-pick salmon runs," he says. "Now they forage for them."
Still, he says, there's no sign of Granny slowing down with age.
"She's like an Energizer Bunny."