Twelve tourists from around the world partaking in a whale watching tour literally got the chance to see the Granny of all killer whales in the Strait of Georgia yesterday.
Granny is the world’s oldest known orca, estimated by The Center for Whale Research to be 103 years old.
Owner and Captain Simon Pidcock from Ocean EcoVentures in Cowichan Bay said it’s always a “really big deal” due to her age to see Granny and her J-Pod return to the area.
Pidcock said they had reports of large killer whales the day before at the mouth of the Olympic Peninsula and had a feeling it might be the J-Pod.
They weren’t disappointed when Pidcock noticed Granny, who is the matriarch of the pod, leading the way. The orca can be recognized due to her saddle patch, which is like a set of fingerprints that consists of a white patch behind every whale’s dorsal fin.
“We were thrilled to see her. And it’s mind-blowing to think that this whale is over 100 years old,” Pidcock said.
“She was born before the Titanic went down. Can you imagine the things she’s seen in her lifetime?”
The average lifespan of a wild orca is between 60 and 80 years old, and despite being a centenarian, Granny is still looking good. Researchers have been keeping photo documentation since the late 1930s and are able to determine an orca’s age by their size.
“She looked great, healthy and really well nourished from the winter,” Pidcock said. “We’re always cautiously optimistic that Granny will be there leading the pod each year and there she was.”
But considering the J-Pod was spotted eight days ago off the coast of California near the mouth of the Russian River, it shows the distances these orcas have to travel to find food. Classified as “picky eaters” these Southern resident killer whales are fish eaters and are primarily looking for Chinook salmon.
“She and the rest of the pod were really trucking to get here from California,” said Ken Balcomb, who has seen her now for 37 consecutive years.
“On the one hand, it’s good news that Granny’s in such great shape and can make that trip. On the other hand, it also shows that these orcas have to travel pretty far to find fish. Ideally, we’d have plenty of salmon here and J-Pod wouldn’t have to go 800 miles for a food run.”