We have a sad story to share to start off the New Year, the world’s oldest wild orca whale has died. Affectionately known as “Granny,” the female orca has been missing from her pod for months and is now presumed dead by the Center for Whale Research. Granny, officially known as J2, was the matriarch of the Southern Resident pod and was last seen on October 12th as she swam north in Haro Strait. She was estimated to be between 75 and 105 years old. Her exact age unknown because she was born before studies of the orca population began.

Ken Balcomb shared the sad news on the Center for Whale Research‘s website: “We have now seen J2 thousands of times in the past 40 years and in recent years, she had been in the lead of J pod virtually any time that she had been seen by anyone. And she kept on going, like the Energizer bunny.”Alarmingly, the Southern Resident orca population is down to 78, with just 24 remaining in the J pod.

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Granny amazingly lived to be an estimated one hundred years old, proving that orcas can live long lives in the wild. But orcas are on the brink of extinction and it’s up to us to save these beautiful animals.

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According to the Center for Orca Research the size of all three Southern Resident pods was reduced in number from 1965-75, as a result of whale captures for major marine parks. The live capture of orcas is a brutal exercise and at least 13 whales were killed during these captures while 45 Southern Resident whales, including Lolita who now lives at Miami Seaquarium, were sent to marine parks around the world.

In the wild, whales spend time with their families traveling, hunting, and playing together. The complex familial and social relationships that can be observed amongst a pod of wild orcas show us that these creatures are highly self-aware, adaptable, and intelligent. But since 1998, sixty-one Southern Resident Killer Whales have died. With only thirty-eight orcas being born and surviving infancy during this period, this is incredibly alarming. So what is causing this? We know that the trauma associated with losing members to captivity can compromise wild pods, but there is another greater threat facing this species.

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These orcas are starving. Once upon time, these black fish would have survived soundly in their natural environments, but now these great whales have to compete with the ever-menacing presence of human industry, such as ship strikes, open net fishing, the creation of dams that limit orca’s access to food, oil spills, and pollution, just to name a few.

Plastic pollution is also a major threat to multiple orca populations around the world, from the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas on the west coast of the U.S. to the tiny West Coast Community that inhabits waters around the British Isles; Arctic orcas near Greenland and the resident population of New ZealandRecent research indicates that PCBs may be driving orca populations in the North Atlantic to extinction, with levels of contaminants among the highest in the world.

Factors like these are making the chances for other orcas to live as long as Granny did, but since many of these are caused by humans, we all have the power to make a difference.

If you want to help orcas thrive in the wild, try these tips:

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  1. Don’t buy a ticket to any park or business that keeps marine mammals in captivity, if you want to see an orca, witness them in their wild, natural habitat.
  2. You can also lessen your impact on the ocean by cutting back on plastic products and packaging – join One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign to learn how.
  3. Help return orca’s main food source, the Chinook salmon, to the ocean by petitioning the usage of dams across the Snake River. Click here to learn more.
  4. You can also check out this excellent resource from the Center for Whale Research which highlights a number of things you can do at home and at work to support the species. Or consider “adopting” a member of the Southern Resident pod to help fund research and protection efforts.

Today, we live in a society that recognizes the complexity of these animals on a social and emotional level, and yet we continue to pass off their exploitation as education and conservation. Join us in memory of Granny and pick up the fight to ensure a better future for orcas.

Image Source: The Orca Project/Facebook

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