2017’s First Celebrity Death Is A Tough One: RIP Granny The 105-Year-Old Killer Whale
January 3 / Rick Chandler / SportsGrid
2017 you evil bastard! It didn't take long for the new year to pick up where 2016 left off, as the world's most beloved killer whale has gone to meet the choir invisible. J2, better known by her peeps as Granny the killer whale, has not been seen since October and is presumed deceased.
This is important because Granny had been the oldest killer whale in the world -- estimated by scientists to be 105 years old. Orcas in the wild usually have a lifespan of 60-85 years.
If she was indeed born in 1911, that's one year before the Titanic sunk. Scientists have been studying Granny and her pod since 1971, when she was estimated to be 60 years old.
Granny (pictured in 2010, above -- pretty spry for a 99-year-old) roamed in the Salish Sea, an area close to Vancouver and Seattle, and her pod has been the subject of a four decades long study led by Dr Ken Balcomb from the Center for Whale Research (CWR), according to the BBC. Scientists were studying, among other things, why orcas have lifespans that go way beyond childbearing years.
Only three mammals are known to experience menopause -- orcas, short-finned pilot whales and humans. Even our closest ape cousins, chimpanzees, do not go through it. Their fertility peters out with age and, in the wild, they seldom live beyond childbearing years.
Following Granny and other matriarch killer whales has shown their crucial role within the family group. They guide the pod as it forages, take care of other females' young calves and even feed the larger males.
Fun science fact: male killer whales follow their mothers for life, due to the economy.
Scientists keep close tabs on the whales they study, so when Granny hadn't been seen in two months, it was a forgone conclusion that she had passed.
Her age was a stark reminder of how whales can prosper in the wild as opposed to captivity. Only two Orcas living in SeaWorld entertainment facilities have reached 45 years of age -- all the others have died. The average age of death for orcas who have died at SeaWorld is 13 years, according to PETA. Their live capture has been banned in U.S. waters, and SeaWorld was handed a worldwide ban in 1980. The Southern Resident killer whales, of which Granny was a member, were given endangered species status in 2005.
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