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103-Year-Old Killer Whale Roaming the Canadian Coast

May 15, 2014 11:00 AM EDT
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A 103-year-old killer whale, the oldest known Orca to roam the seas, was spotted off the coast of British Columbia this past weekend.

Known to whale experts as J2, but more commonly recognized by her nickname "Granny," the matriarch was seen leading her pod of children, grandchildren, and great children.

"It's great news she's back, another year older, and thriving," Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said, according The Vancouver Sun.

Granny comes from the Southern Resident orca population and freely swims in the water of the North Pacific. She runs in a 25-whale group that researchers call the "J-Pod," or the "Southern Resident Killer Whales."

Researchers guess that Granny was born in 1911 and therefore is 103 years old, making her as old as the ill-fated Titanic (which sank April 15, 1912), according to The Science Recorder.

Most killer whales die at 60 to 80 years of age, putting Granny at the top of the heap. But two other members of J-Pod have lived extremely long lives - females dubbed "Ocean Sun" and "Lummi," died at ages 85 and 98, respectively.

And for an old lady, Granny likes to get around. She was spotted in the southern Strait of Georgia this weekend, meaning she would have had to travel 800 miles to reach this point from southern California, where she was originally seen.

Simon Pidcock of Ocean EcoVentures out of Cowichan Bay was the one who identified Granny. And given her long track record, it's no surprise that this wasn't his first encounter.

"I've seen Granny in these parts about 1,000 times over 13 years," he said, The Sun reported. "She looked really healthy and playful. It was good to see them foraging, finding fish here."

For Sea World, The Dodos' Jenny Kutner writes, Granny's blessed long life is not great news. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation project estimates that whales born in captivity live an average of 4.5 years, mostly dying before they reach age 20.

Sea World contends that "no one knows for sure how long killer whales live,", but living examples like Granny are a good indication that killer whale lifespans are a lot longer in the wild than in captivity.

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