"The Matriarch" Killer Whale ~ Orca Watercolor Painting (J2 Granny) by Amber Marineby Amber Marine
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ABOUT THE ART
The 12th and final piece in my year-long endangered species art project:
The critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale.
Painted in watercolor with rain water on vintage watercolor paper. July 2016
The subject of the painting is a very famous girl indeed – 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.
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. 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 killer whale 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 from their families 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 adult 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 are being 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 and 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?
Read more about the Southern Resident Killer Whales:
http://www.whaleresearch.com/orca-population ( The Center for Whale Research )
https://srkwcsi.org/ ( Southern Resident Killer Whale Chinook Salmon Initiative )
A list of petitions for the Southern Residents orcas:
#BreachTheDams : https://srkwcsi.org/take-action/sign-the-petitions/
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.
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 - and none of the pose I decided to draw her in. 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. 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 a unique shape - 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 have fond memories of the slow - steady - serene process that brought the painting together. I hope I did this beautiful old girl justice. :)
To see more of my art and read about more endangered species please visit AmberMarineArt.com 🐢 🐠 🐟 🐡 🐬 🐳 🐋