80-year-old Orca 'Speiden' missing, presumed dead

80-year-old Orca 'Speiden' missing, presumed dead »Play Video
Photo of J8 "Speiden" surfing in tugboat wake. (Photo: Candi Emmons, NOAA)
SEATTLE -- An 80-year-old Orca whale has been missing for about six weeks and Orca spotters are presuming her dead.

The Orca J8, also known as "Speiden," was last seen on Sept. 19 near Victoria and has not been seen the last two times the J Pod was in the Puget Sound's Saratoga Passage, officials with Orca Network said. Speiden has a distinct sound when she breathed and a notch at the base of her fin making her easy to identify, day or night.

"At 80 years old, she was right in the upper limits of longevity for females," said Howard Garrett, co-director of the Orca Network. "It was probably just a natural passing after a long life."

Garrett said that Speiden was not known to have any offspring during their studies, but it's hard to know for sure since their research didn't begin until after the whale capture era from 1966-1976, when dozens of whales were taken from the area waters.

"Over 40 were delivered from her family, so she may have lost several offspring during those years," Garrett said.

Garrett says Speiden is especially missed now that her J Pod and neighboring K Pod families have both been sighted in the Puget Sound waters this week.

"She was always great to have out there because she was so familiar," Garrett said. "We'll miss her. It's always reassuring to see the whales that we know and recognize out there. She was one of the ones that everybody who watched these whales knew very well."

The Orca Network said Spieden was not the most senior Orca in the pod. Orca J2, "Granny," is believed to be 102 years old.