J1 Ruffles swimming alongside J2 Granny
Photo by Sandy Buckley
After several recent encounters with J pod the Center for Whale Research, charged with keeping the Southern Resident Killer Whale population census, has officially listed J1 aka Ruffles as missing. The last time he was photographed was on November 21st, causing concern that he may not have survived the winter.
Ruffles was the first Southern Resident to receive a photo-identification letter (J, meaning he is a member of J pod) and number (1, the first J pod whale to be documented). His name is an attribute to his immediately recognizable dorsal fin; tall and wavy like a Ruffles potato chip.
Born in 1951 (est.) Ruffles is the oldest and most recognizable male of this endangered orca community. His closest companion is J2 Granny, a 100 year old female who is believed to be his mother. The two were often seen traveling together. Granny, along with almost all other J pod whales have been photographed back in the Salish Sea in 2011, but the absence of the massive dorsal fin normally alongside of Granny has been hard to ignore.
Ruffles has many offspring from K, L, and even his own J pod. Preliminary paternity testing suggests that he is the most active male breeder, and has fathered more calves than any other male in the community. Perhaps the females of his community chose to mate with him time and time again because of his mature age and massive size, an indicator of 'good genes'. Or maybe it had to do with another reason entirely, a reason we humans may never understand. What is known however, is how much he will be missed if he is truly gone.
Within the next few months the entire community will likely return to the Salish Sea, and the whales unaccounted for will be declared 'missing and presumed dead' by the Center for Whale Research. Until then all we can do is hope that Ruffles is out there somewhere, alive and well, and finding plentiful schools of salmon.