Granny is dead. In August of last year, we posted Orca “Granny,” 105 Years Old, Still Swimming the Pacific about the oldest member of the ” J” pod of Puget Sound orcas, and also the known living orca. Sadly, in January, the whale dubbed J2 by researchers, but nicknamed “Granny,” was no longer seen swimming with her pod and is presumed to have died. Even orcas whales cannot live forever, but nevertheless, Granny’s passing may be a sign of a much greater problem for orcas, also known as killer whales, in the Pacific Northwest. Because of a decrease in wild salmon, the orcas may be starving. Alarmingly, a similar problem appears to be facing orcs in the Antarctic where a decrease in the seal population may be threatening orca survival.
In 2005, there were around 140 orcas in the “Southern Resident” pods in the Puget Sound region. Now, including the loss of granny, there are under 80 left. The decline of the orcas has paralleled the decline of Chinook salmon, which have been blocked from reaching the orcas by dams on the Snake River and also have been dying off due to increases in water temperature caused by climate change. As noted in National Geographic:
Southern Resident killer whales evolved side-by-side with salmon in the Pacific Ocean. They learned to select the best and fattiest of fish, the Chinook salmon, and discovered the best locations and times to find these Kings, committing that knowledge to memory and passing it along down generations. Even as Chinook salmon populations have plummeted in the Northwest, the Southern Resident killer whales stick to their traditions and follow their elders, and continue to visit the mouths of specific rivers when the salmon are running. But now, they’re running out of fish, and running out of time.
At the bottom of the globe, orcas are also on the verge of starvation, as melting ice sheets have meant fewer seals that are critical to the orcas’ diet. Scientists have been using drones to track the orca pods and the findings are not good. CBS reports: It’s too early to know why it’s happening, but the prime suspect? Antarctica is warming up. “There’s, um, a problem with their food supply, and … fewer seals,” said Durban. “And that’s what we’ve been seeing so far this year.”
“ Less ice, fewer seals — is that a leap?” CBS News asked.
“It’s certainly a hypothesis,” Durban said.