Along with the raft of famous people who died last year, 2016 also appears to have claimed a famous whale, nicknamed Granny – considered the oldest known killer whale, now presumed dead by groups most familiar with her travels.
Experts say it's not possible to be exact about Granny's age, but it's generally believed the female orca was more than 100 years old. According to the Whale Research Center (WRC), she was estimated to be about 76 years old in 1987, putting her birth sometime in 1911.
In a memorial piece about Granny on the WRC website, Executive Director and Principal Investigator Kenneth C. Balcomb wrote that he last observed Granny on October 12, 2016. No known sightings of the animal have occurred since.
On its Facebook page, the center announced the news:
"We knew this day would come, and each year that she returned with the rest of J pod brought us closer to this inevitable moment," the WRC wrote. "With heavy hearts we have to say goodbye to yet another southern resident, perhaps the most loved and known to all and the oldest orca to date: J2 also known as Granny."
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"J2" refers to Granny's membership in the "J" pod, one of three pods (J, K and L) making up the community of southern resident killer whales (SRKW) inhabiting the northwest portion of the Pacific Ocean, off southern British Columbia in Canada and Washington state in the United States. Granny was considered the leader of the J pod.
The small SRKW community is now down to 78 individuals, according to the WRC, and Granny's J pod contains just 24 whales.
Whales such as Granny are individually identified by such characteristics as their dorsal fin shape, pigment patterns, and scars along the "saddle patch" on the back of the animals.
The WRC seems certain Granny's markings, as she moved through the ocean, won't be seen again.
"Perhaps other dedicated whale watchers have seen her since then," Balcomb wrote, "but by year's end she is officially missing from the SRKW population, and with regret we now consider her deceased."
Top Photo: Granny breaches in this picture from 2010. Credit: Whale Research Center