Headlines featuring a "103 Year Old Orca" have been making rounds on the web lately.
But here's the thing: there is no concrete evidence of her age.
J2 is part of the most extensively studied population of Orca in the world- the Southern Resident population of the Pacific Northwest. When she was first sighted around the early 1970's, she was already full grown and often sighted with a full grown adult male, J1 (nicknamed "Ruffles"). Researchers presumed that J1 was her son and suggested that she was born in 1911 based of the estimate that she calved J1 at the age of 40.
More recently however,a study on the population's paternity and reproduction was conducted, in which both J1 and J2's DNA was tested. The results show that J2 is in fact not J1's mother. This makes J2's original age estimate quite unreliable.
Orca generally stop calving at the age of 40. J2 was never seen with new calves since the study on the population began in the 1970's, so its reasonable safe to estimate that J2 was at least over 40 at the time.
Even if she was 40 in the 1970's, that would put her in her 80's today. Which is still a remarkable age and still obliterates SeaWorld's claims on Killer Whale lifespans, but not quite as eye-catching as 103.
In 2011, a mock "100th birthday" party was thrown for J2, at which The Center for Whale Research's senior scientist Ken Balcomb explained the estimation process for the age of orca. He also expressed that "continued research will provide information on orcas over the next 100 years..." as long as these whales' food source, the endangered Chinook salmon, is preserved.
Rather than focusing on sensationalizing the unconfirmed age of Granny, we should put more effort into protecting her and the rest of her endangered population. As long as we are able to preserve the environment and food source- which are currently highly threatened by Snake River dams- for the Southern Resident Killer Whales, perhaps one day we will see a confirmable 100-year old orca- or at least, a sturdy population of healthy, free-roaming wild whales!