Looking back on the various comments that followed the death of
the killer whale named Granny, I realized that there were a couple
of thought-provoking tributes that I never shared with readers of
Granny, designated J-2, was believed to be more than 100 years
old, and she was the obvious leader for many of the Southern
Resident orcas that frequent Puget Sound. Granny went missing last
fall and was reported deceased at the end of the year by the Center
for Whale Research. See
Water Ways, Dec. 30.
Some tributes to Granny were written and posted soon after her
death notice, including one by Ken Balcomb of the Center
for Whale Research. I posted my thoughts along with some others in
Water Ways on Jan. 4.
About a month before the Center for Whale Research last observed
Granny, the killer whale, the elder orca was pictured in aerial
photos by researchers from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science
The last aerial photos of Granny showed her to be in “poor body
condition,” according to a report from marine mammal researcher
John Durban on NOAA’s
Granny, designated J-2, was missing for weeks before the Center
for Whale Research gathered enough observations to announce her
death on the last day of 2016. The oldest whale in the three
Southern Resident pods could have been more than 100 years old,
according to estimates, as I discussed in
Water Ways on Jan. 4.
The aerial photos, taken from a small unmanned hexacopter, are
used to monitor the health of the orcas, John noted in his report.
The photos taken in September show Granny to be thinner than other
adult females. The photos on this page show Granny (top photo) to
be thinner than J-22, a 32-year-old female named Oreo (second
photo) who was reported in “robust condition” and may have been
If we can celebrate the life of a person who has died, it seems
fitting to me that we should celebrate the long, productive life of
a killer whale known as Granny.
Granny, officially designated J-2, was the oldest orca in the
three pods of Southern Residents. Possibly more than 100 years of
age, her longevity is something we can only hope to see among the
other orcas that frequent Puget Sound.
Granny was the longtime leader of J pod. In a matriarchal
society like the orcas, offspring stay with their mothers for life.
Generally, the older females lead the way, and Granny was almost
always seen at the front of the pack as J pod moved through the
For a long-lived intelligent orca, it is hard to imagine the
amount of knowledge she must have accumulated through the years. I
tend to think that Granny had a personal history with nearly every
cove and inlet in the Salish Sea. I think she understood the
movement of salmon and where the fish would congregate before
heading up the streams. It must have been tough for her to watch
the decline of the whales’ once-abundant prey.