News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by
Environment & Science

Granny the 103-year-old orca spotted off Pacific Coast

Screenshot of a video of an encounter with Granny (J2) on Earth Day 2012.
Screenshot of a video of an encounter with Granny (J2) on Earth Day 2012.
Teren Photography

Listen to story

Download this story 2MB

A killer whale named Granny is the oldest known member of its species at 103 years old. To give a little perspective, she was swimming the seas even before the Titanic sank in the icy waters of the Atlantic.

Granny is a member of the Southern Resident orca population, which swims the waters of the North Pacific between Northern California and British Columbia.

Biologist Ken Balcombe, executive director of the Center for Whale Research, has been tracking her since 1977. He joins the show to talk about this elderly orca. 


Interview Highlights:

How can you be sure she's 103 years old?

"In her case, when we began the study, there were many whales that already had matured and already had mature babies, so we did not know the exact date of anybody's birth at that time. We base that age upon her being the probably mother of J-1, who lived to his 60th year and was born around 1951. We believe that he was Granny's last offspring. These whales, like people, they have a reproductive senescence of about age 40 and she was probably about 40 in 1951, so we put her birth year right around 1911."

How long do orcas live in captivity, compared to in the wild?

"There are some there that were caught in 1970, in the late '60s. There are two of them that are still alive, but the average lifespan in captivity, if we take the whole captive era, is 20 years approximately. Of course, there are some that are still alive after 40-45 years, so we don't know and they don't know, but we do know our wild whales, there are a lot of them that are 70-80 years old."

Have you ever heard of a whale this old before?

"There's a bowhead whale up off the coast of Greenland that was 180. There are a lot of octogenarians here in the population, 70-, 80-, 90-year-old whales. She just happens to be one of the ones that is setting the record books for us."

To listen to the full interview, click on "Listen Now" in the upper left.