Stunning proof of the longevity that wild orcas can enjoy was uncovered yesterday, after a 103-year-old orca was sighted in the waters between Point Roberts in Washington State and East Point on Saturna Island. While captive orcas often do not get to live past their tenth birthday, this formidable matriarch is still going strong.

Captain Simon Pidcock of Ocean EcoVentures, a whale-watching business based in Cowichan Bay, was thrilled to spot her again. “I’ve seen her thousands and thousands of times,” he said. “She looked really healthy, still going strong. We’re really excited to have her back.”

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There is no doubt that the orca was Granny, because of her saddle patch – a distinctive white mark each whale has behind its dorsal fin – which Pidcock describes as being just as distinctive as a human fingerprint.

Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA), notes that Granny has been doing a lot of traveling lately, which may have contributed to her healthy appearance. Her pod, known within whale watching circles as J-Pod, was spotted off the Russian River in Northern California just over a week ago.

“The thing I found really, really interesting is that she’s in the shape to travel, to make the trek she just did with J-Pod. That’s 800 miles in not even eight days. It’s amazing,” Harris said. And she was surrounded by family members throughout the trek – one of whom was a new-born great-grandchild! Sadly, this is an adventure that captive whales never get to experience.

PWWA believes that Lolita, the oldest orca in captivity, is about 50 years old – and unlike Granny, she has lived alone for most of her life, after being brutally torn away from her family at the age of four.

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Image source: Capt. Simon Pidcock/Ocean EcoVentures