World's Oldest Orca Returns To Washington State Coast In "High Spirits"


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

S'up, world? An orca (not Grannny) pops its head above the water. Tory Kallman/Shutterstock

The world’s oldest orca, J2 – also known as “Granny” – has been spotted again near San Juan Island’s False Bay, part of an archipelago of islands in Washington State. Now 105 years old, she is by far the world’s oldest living orca. According to the Orca Network, she was in “high spirits,” and was seen in the Salish Sea with several other familial whales after spending a few weeks foraging in the Georgia Strait.

The average lifespan of a female orca is 70 to 90 years, so Granny’s longevity feat is truly remarkable. Far from just being a grandmother, she is often seen in her pod accompanied by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. An adopted male orca was spotted in her 25-orca-strong pod during the most recent siting, which took place on July 27.


Granny was born in 1911, three years before the start of the First World War. She is recognizable from her gray “saddle patch” behind her dorsal fin. Her continued existence is often cited as clear evidence as to how dramatically captivity shrinks their lifespan.


Granny, also known as J2, spotted on July 27. Heather MacIntyre via Orca Network

In fact, the average lifespan of an orca in captivity in the US is just 12 years, well below the aforementioned average female orca lifespan in the wild, or even the wild male equivalent of 50 to 60 years. As of the start of 2016, 56 orcas were still living in captivity around the world, and many of their individual stories can be found here.

Since then, some have died, but most are still imprisoned. One particular female individual at SeaWorld San Diego named “Corky” has lived there, as of 2016, for 46 years. Granny was originally captured for a marine mammal park, but was deemed too old and was ultimately released.


In response to mounting protests, SeaWorld – which has been blasted by controversy over the past few years after the critical Blackfish documentary was released – has announced that it is to phase out orca shows for paying audiences. In addition, and more significantly, their current batch of captive orcas will not be allowed to breed, and they will be the last generation confined to artificial tanks.

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are toothed cetaceans belonging to the oceanic dolphin family. They’re widely distributed, found in both Arctic and Antarctic waters and in tropical seas. They are apex predators, which means that they are vital to marine ecosystems.

Despite their moniker, they aren’t a threat to humans, but we are certainly a threat to them – overfishing is depleting their food sources, habitat loss is shrinking their livable environment, and pollution is slowly culling their numbers. As bad as this fact already is, knowing that they are highly intelligent creatures with sophisticated social hierarchies, vocalizations, and behaviors makes humanity’s threat to the species all the grimmer.


This will soon come to an end in SeaWorld facilities, but there are plenty more around the world still living in tanks. Daleen Loest/Shutterstock


  • tag
  • killer whale,

  • orca,

  • oldest,

  • pod,

  • captivity,

  • wild,

  • granny,

  • 105,

  • washington state,

  • longest living