The world’s oldest killer whale, who was born a year before the Titanic sank, has not been seen in her pod since October, leading to fears that she has died.
The female orca, affectionately known as ‘Granny’ by scientists studying her, was the oldest of a group of whales that researchers have been following for the past four decades.
The family of killer whales lives in an area known as the Salish Sea - close to Vancouver and Seattle - and Granny was first observed and photographed by Dr Ken Balcomb of the Centre for Whale Research since 1976.
Dr Balcomb said he last saw the whale on 12 October, 2016, when she swam north far ahead of the others. It was thought she could be as old as 105, meaning she was born in 1911, a year before the Titanic sank.
"Perhaps other dedicated whale-watchers have seen her since then," he said.
"But by year's end she is officially missing from the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, and with regret we now consider her deceased."
Recently British scientists have been following Granny’s pod to study whale menopause. Only humans, orca and short-finned pilot whales go through the menopause in the entire animal kingdom, and scientists were hoping to find out why.
Granny, whose official name was J2, was one such post-reproductive leader, who help care for young and pass on knowledge of good feeding grounds to young members.
Prof Darren Croft from the University of Exeter who leads this evolutionary biology research, told BBC News: "It was inevitable that this day was going to come but it is very sad news and a further blow to this population.
Prof Croft said that it was "just incredible" to think of what Granny lived through.
"She lived through the live captures and in recent years her world has changed dramatically with dwindling salmon stocks and increases in shipping threatening the survival of this incredible population,” he said.
"Although J2 is gone we will continue to benefit for many decades to come, from the incredible data collected on her life over the last 40 years by the Center for Whale Research."
SeaWorld plans to phase out the killer whale show at its San Diego park next year after coming under longstanding criticism for its treatment of the mammals also known as orcas, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported earlier today.