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Nothing Compares 2 Granny (J2)

The Dorsal Spin
Revered and adored Granny (J2), est. 1911 -- 2016, pierces the veil and pierces our hearts. Summer 2016 photo by The Whale Museum
Revered and adored Granny (J2), est. 1911 -- 2016, pierces the veil and pierces our hearts. Summer 2016 photo by The Whale Museum

So many tears; so much heartache and mourning in 2016. In a malicious parting shot, the final devastating blow was struck in late December of the *Deplorable* Year: Granny (J2) is gone, missing since October. Words are insufficient to address the profound loss of our inimitable, beloved Granny (J2). A few appellations for Granny: Supreme Matriarch, Culture Bearer, Orca Sage, Clan Leader, Wisdom Keeper, Legacy Builder – J2 is and was all of these and more.

Granny now swims eternally with an overwhelming number of her relatives who died in 2016: newborn J55, male Nigel (L95), matriarch Samish (J14), mother Polaris (J28) and her baby son Dipper (J54), male DoubleStuf (J34), as well as the neonates of Tsuchi (J31), Deadhead (K27) and another unspecified. Some died painfully and horrifically. The Salish Sea is emptier. Truly, we cried all year – and not just for our precious orcas.

An extended, more articulate tribute to all of the departed Southern Residents will ensue after the utter distress and raw grief subside. For now, I excerpted part of a previous Dorsal Spin, “Granny Bucks the Tide,” that illustrates, to some degree, Granny’s greatness. From 2015:

“Granny (J2) perpetually blows my mind. Granny, of course, is our supreme Southern Resident orca matriarch. Previously, J2’s birth year was estimated to be 1911, but recent genetic testing shows she is more likely of the same vintage as fellow elder matriarch Ocean Sun (L25), born circa 1928. Whether she is closer to 87 or 104, Granny rocks!
Odin, Nashoba and I have been privileged to visit Granny’s summer domain many times. Every June at the Solstice, we make a pilgrimage to Lime Kiln Point State Park and Lighthouse on San Juan Island to perform for J2 and her relatives at the annual Orca Sing concert.

During an epic mid-July encounter, Granny guided a mixed matrilines consortium of J14s, J19s, K13s and K14s up Island (north) on a vigorous afternoon flood tide. Many of the slow moving orcas, including J2, were within 40 yards of the Lime Kiln Lighthouse. In the tradition of Ruffles (J1) when he was alive, Granny’s devoted male escort Onyx (L87) was a mile offshore by the whale watching armada. Perhaps it was his turn to divert the boats while everyone else chilled.

Judging by a bird perched on a log swept along in the swift water, the speed of the current was about 8-10 mph. When the killer whales reached Bellevue Point north of the park, they milled for twenty minutes or so and, after a few spyhops, breaches, and tail slaps, they returned to the lighthouse. A group of kayakers loitered at the point, parked in the path of the whales -- maybe their presence influenced the direction change.

Some observers marveled at the orcas’ decision to buck the tide and swim against the strong current. Odin and I sat with the interns who help Bob Otis with his summer research. One proclaimed that he hoped Lobo (K26) would come into the kelp, to which I responded, ‘Call me predictable, but I want to see Granny (J2) in the kelp!’ Granny is a master ‘kelper.’

Suddenly, under our noses, J2 popped up cork-like from the echoing green depths, in the kelp bed, and inhaled forcefully. The crescent shaped nick in the trailing edge of her dorsal fin was plainly visible. I blurted out, ‘Hi Granny, beautiful lady!’ She looked fit and fabulous, after all.

Now, it could be that Granny was merely pursuing a juicy salmon, or luxuriating in the nearshore kelp. Our First Nations ancestors, however, taught us to value the consciousness of killer whales. I am grateful for whatever drew Granny close to us that day at Lime Kiln.”

I love Granny as I love my aunties, grandmothers, and, yes, my mother. That’s how we roll as First Nations – we regard our Kéet relatives as we regard our human kin. Surely, J2’s orca family loves her and misses her immensely. How is Granny’s devoted escort Onyx (L87) processing her death? How will J Pod and the entire Southern Resident Community heal and adapt to losing their venerable leader? An icon ascends, an era ends, and we are all diminished by Granny’s passing.

Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS ASAP TO 206-463-9041, as well as seal pups and sick, injured, or dead marine mammals on Island beaches. Prompt reports to the VHP expedite vital data collection efforts and sustain an accurate record of whale sightings for Vashon-Maury initiated three decades ago by Mark Sears. Send photos to Orca Annie at