top of page

July 2016 - Southern Resident Killer Whale

Watercolor painting ~ Art of J2 "Granny" of the Southern Resident Killer Whales by Amber Marine, © 2016, all rights reserved

She's finished! The 12th and final piece in my year-long endangered species art project:

The endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

“The Matriarch” - Painted in watercolor using rain water, on vintage watercolor paper. July 2016

The subject of the painting is a very famous lady – she is the elder matriarch of the J-Pod: J2 “Granny.” Granny is thought to be over a hundred years old, estimated to have been born in 1911. She was a youngster the year the Titanic sank.

The southern resident killer whales are a unique population of orcas that live in the Pacific Northwest. There are an estimated 80 of these whales alive today. Southern resident killer whales, aka orcas, live in close-knit matrilineal family groups and form very strong social and very obvious emotional bonds with their family members. The orcas born into the group stay with their family (and with their mommy) for their entire lives. The southern resident population is called the “J Clan” and is made up of 3 pods: the L-Pod, The K-Pod, and the J-Pod.

This group of orcas has been put through many trials and tribulations by humans over the decades. Their population took a critical hit from hunters from 1962 to 1973, when an entire generation of their babies were taken away to be put in marine parks. Only one of the 46 orcas that were taken remains alive today; Tokitae (aka “Lolita”) who is kept in a small tank at the Miami Seaquarium. The process of capturing the orcas also killed many members of the pods. (J2 Granny herself was captured in 1967 and released - deemed too old to be placed in captivity.) The southern resident population has been struggling ever since.

Having their future generation taken away wasn't the end of troubled times for the southern resident orcas. These orcas are salmon-eaters, relying heavily on the chinook salmon population for food. The placement of dams in the salmon's spawning rivers, as well as hatchery salmon competing with and spreading disease to the wild stock in the area has had a massively negative impact on the salmon population in the orca's habitat. The southern resident killer whales are starving.

Then there is the terrible pollution problem in the orca's habitat, poisoning the food chain all the way to the top. Autopsies of deceased members of the population have shown an extremely high amount of toxic pollutants stored in the whale's blubber. DDT, PBDEs, PCBs, among many others.

Loss of a vital generation. Starvation. Poisonous polluted environment. Marine noise. Boat traffic. Boat strikes. Harassment from tourists. Sonar blasts from ships and submarines causing ear hemorrhaging and death. Stress caused by all of the above.

The southern resident clan struggles on despite all of these man-made threats to their survival. Conservation efforts have been made, but more is needed if these orcas are to recover. The dams that are destroying their food source need to be breached. The out-of-control pollution needs to stop, for the sake of everything. Strict regulations on marine noise in the habitat need to be placed and enforced.

Who are we, what are we if we refuse to stop ourselves from destroying the wild ocean world that these magnificent creatures (and we ourselves) rely on for survival?


You can read more about the Southern Resident Killer Whales (and see pictures, and buy a membership and cool stuff to support research, education, and conservation!) at:


Link to petitions you can sign in support of the southern resident killer whales and chinook salmon:


About the Painting:

This group of orcas has faced so many challenges, and their wise and tough old matriarch was more than enough inspiration to get me painting. This is an 8x10 watercolor painting, and I used rain water collected from a pretty awesome thunderstorm to mix the paint.

I honestly lost track of how much time really went into the creation of this piece. Over the course of two and a half weeks I sat at my work table with this painting, nudging it along detail by detail while I listened to music and browsed though hundreds of photos of killer whales. I used my collection of tiny brushes to make the thousands of watercolor drops of that make up the texture of the background, as well as the texture of Granny's skin and her many markings.

I was unable to find many usable reference photos of Granny. I had to imagine some of the details, but I tried my best to include her many identifying marks. Orcas all have unique saddle patches, and researchers use saddle patch markings to identify individuals. Granny has a telltale halfmoon chip out of her dorsal, a relatively straight upper jaw line, and she has freckles in the corner of her left eye patch. The line between her black and white markings have unique dips and curves, her fins have unique shapes, and I was able to find one picture that partially showed the markings under her tail stock. I am very happy with this piece. I will fondly remember the slow, steady, serene process that brought the painting together. I hope I did this beautiful old girl justice. :)

Legal: All artwork displayed here is © Amber Marine 2016, all rights reserved. Do not alter. Do not use this artwork in any way without a directly written legal agreement from the artist.

Recent Posts
Featured Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page