Orcas: Details about killer whales



Orcas (Orcinus orca) are sometimes known as killer whales, regardless that they nearly by no means assault people. The truth is, the killer whale identify was initially “whale killer,” as historical sailors noticed them looking in teams to take down giant whales, in line with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC)

At this time, orcas are acknowledged as among the many most generally distributed mammals on the planet, occupying each ocean. They’re extremely social, various and ferocious marine predators with a weight loss plan starting from penguins to nice white sharks.  

How massive is an orca?

An illustration displaying a cut-away of a killer whale’s physique and the organs inside. (Picture credit score: Peter David Scott/The Artwork Company/Future Plc )

Orcas are the biggest members of the dolphin household. Males are larger than females, however they fluctuate in dimension and weight, relying on the kind of orca. The most important orca ever recorded was a staggering 32 ft (9.8 meters) lengthy and weighed 22,000 lbs. (10,000 kilograms), in line with SeaWorld. That is longer and heavier than most motorhomes.

Orcas are identified for his or her lengthy dorsal fin (the fin on the animal’s again) and black-and-white coloring. The black-and-white coloring helps to camouflage them by obscuring their define within the water. Simply behind the dorsal fin is a patch of grey known as a “saddle” — as a result of it appears like a using saddle. 

An orca’s physique is cylindrical and tapers at every finish to kind a hydrodynamic form. This form, together with the orca’s giant dimension and energy, makes it among the many quickest marine mammals, capable of attain speeds in extra of 30 knots (about 34 mph, or 56 km/h). Orcas have large enamel, which might develop as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) lengthy, in line with Nationwide Geographic

What do orcas eat?

An orca helps traps a big group herring in shallow waters off Andenes in Norway. (Picture credit score: by wildestanimal through Getty Photos)

Orcas are apex predators, on the prime of the meals chain. No animals hunt orcas (aside from people). Killer whales feed on many various kinds of prey, together with fish, seals, sea birds and squid. They’ll additionally take down whales bigger than themselves, similar to minke whales, and they’re the one animal identified to predate on nice white sharks, in line with The Pure Historical past Museum in London. Killer whales have even been reported to kill swimming deer and moose, in line with a chapter on orcas in “Primates and Cetaceans” (Springer, 2014). 

Orcas use many alternative strategies to catch prey. Generally they seaside themselves to catch seals on land, leaping from the water onto land. Orcas can even work collectively to catch bigger prey or teams of prey, similar to faculties of fish, in line with the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Crimson Record. They’ll use echolocation to determine their prey by creating sounds, or sound waves, that journey by way of the water. These waves echo off objects, together with prey, which the orcas can use to find them, in line with SeaWorld.  

Orca assaults on people

There isn’t a report of an orca ever killing a human within the wild. It is because people aren’t a part of their pure weight loss plan. Sometimes, an orca could mistake a human for one thing they do eat, similar to a seal. In 2017, an orca was caught on digital camera charging at a surfer through the Lofoten Masters browsing competitors in Norway. The orca appeared to drag out of the assault simply earlier than making contact. The Norwegian Orca Survey mentioned in a Fb publish that the orca seemingly realized the surfer was not a seal on the final second.

In 2005, a 12-year-old boy was “bumped” by a killer whale close to Ketchikan, Alaska, in what could have been an aborted assault — much like the surfer in Norway — or just curiosity on behalf of the orca, in line with the Related Press, through The Seattle Occasions. The Related Press reported {that a} surfer was bitten in California within the early Nineteen Seventies, which is the one comparatively well-documented case of a wild orca truly biting a human. Orcas in captivity, nevertheless, have attacked and killed individuals. 

Though wild killer whales don’t deliberately hurt individuals, they’ve attacked boats. There have been many stories starting in the summertime of 2020 of orcas ramming into and inflicting harm to crusing boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal, in line with BBC Information. Three juvenile male orcas had been concerned in a lot of the assaults, and marine biologists investigating the incidents consider that the younger males had been enjoying with the boats by concentrating on the rudders and pushing the boats round.  

Life within the pod

A picture of an adult killer whale and calf surfacing off the Cumberland Peninsula in Canada  Orcas: Details about killer whales missing image

An grownup killer whale and calf surfacing off the Cumberland Peninsula in Canada. (Picture credit score: Michael Nolan through Getty Photos)

Orcas are very social creatures and dwell in household teams known as pods, which have as much as 50 members, in line with the College of Michigan’s Animal Variety Internet (ADW). These pods are made up of associated moms and their descendants, often known as matrilines. A male orca will stick with its mom for all times, whereas daughters could spend time away after having calves of their very own, in line with the wildlife charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). Pods typically have their very own distinctive calls, or dialects, to speak, however they’ll affiliate with different pods and might come collectively to kind even bigger, short-term teams.


Measurement: As much as 32 ft (9.8 m) lengthy 

Life span: As much as 100 years 

Conservation standing: Information poor  

A feminine killer whale will give delivery to at least one offspring at a time each three to 10 years. The gestation interval normally lasts for round 17 months in line with SeaWorld. Orcas work collectively to deal with the younger, and different females within the pod will typically assist with the rearing.

Feminine killer whales have a median life span of fifty years, however some people are estimated to have lived as much as 100 years. Males dwell shorter lives, with a median life span of 29 years and a most life span of 60 years, in line with the Heart for Whale Analysis in Washington state.

The place do orcas dwell?

Killer whales are essentially the most extensively distributed mammals, apart from people and probably brown rats, in line with SeaWorld. They dwell in each ocean around the globe and have tailored to completely different climates, from the nice and cozy waters close to the equator to the icy waters of the North and South Pole areas. 

Orcas have been identified to journey lengthy distances. For instance, one examine discovered {that a} group of orcas traveled from the waters off of Alaska to these close to central California, in line with IUCN — a distance of greater than 1,200 miles (1,900 km).

Are there various kinds of orca?

Killer whale and Weddell seal. (Picture credit score: Robert Pitman/NOAA)

All orcas are presently listed below one species, Orcinus orca. Nonetheless, there are recognizable variations between populations, and biologists have recognized a number of distinct varieties, often known as ecotypes, which can truly be completely different species or subspecies, in line with the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Killer whale ecotypes can fluctuate in dimension, weight loss plan and conduct. There are presently 10 described ecotypes: 5 within the Northern Hemisphere and 5 within the Southern Hemisphere, in line with WDC. Within the North Pacific, scientists have recognized resident orcas, which are inclined to have small ranges — therefore the identify — and focus on catching fish. Bigg’s killer whales, or transient orcas, can be discovered within the North Pacific. These orcas journey nice distances and hunt mammals similar to seals and whale calves. Offshore orcas can be discovered on this area. They dwell removed from coastlines and have been seen consuming fish and sharks, however comparatively little is understood about them. 


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Cetacea

Household: Delphinidae

Genus: Orcinus

Species: orca 

The Northern Hemisphere can also be dwelling to North Atlantic Kind 1 and Kind 2 killer whales. Kind 1 orcas are generalist eaters and have been noticed consuming fish and seals round European nations, together with Norway and Scotland. Kind 2 orcas are rarer and primarily eat different whales and dolphins.

Within the Southern Hemisphere, there are Kind A, Kind B (giant), Kind B (small), Kind C and Kind D killer whales. 

—Kind A orcas journey out and in of Antarctic waters, following the migration of their fundamental prey, minke whales. 

—Kind B (giant) animals are additionally known as pack ice orcas, as a result of they hunt seals in Antarctic pack ice. 

—Kind B (small) killer whales, additionally known as Gerlache orcas, have been seen consuming penguins, however their full weight loss plan is unknown. 

—The identical is true for Kind C and Kind D orcas, although each of those have been noticed consuming fish. 

—Kind C, or Ross Sea orcas, are the smallest ecotype and are normally present in japanese Antarctica.

—Kind D, or subantarctic orcas, are very uncommon, and there’s nonetheless a lot to find out about them.

Are orcas endangered?

The orca is presently listed as “Information Poor” by the IUCN, which suggests its conservation standing is unknown. Scientists did not have adequate knowledge when it was final assessed in 2017 because of the uncertainty relating to its taxonomic classification — whether or not orcas needs to be cut up into completely different subspecies or species. The IUCN famous that as a single species, the killer whale is ample and extensively distributed. Nonetheless, they nonetheless face threats from human actions and a few regional populations, such because the orcas depending on bluefin tuna within the Strait of Gibraltar, have declined considerably. 

Human civilizations around the globe kill orcas instantly and not directly. They’re nonetheless hunted for meals in small numbers, or as a method to regulate their inhabitants, in Greenland, Japan, Indonesia and the Caribbean, in line with the IUCN. Contaminants within the ocean and seas, similar to chemical compounds and oil, pose a menace to orcas together with disturbance by boats, overfishing and different disruptions to their meals provide and local weather change, in line with IUCN.

Killer whales are protected within the U.S below the Marine Mammal Safety Act (MMPA). Southern resident killer whales are additionally listed below the Endangered Species Act as they’re at specific threat of extinction, resulting from threats like noise from boat visitors and a decline within the salmon inhabitants — their most well-liked meals. A subpopulation of transient killer whales (AT1) can also be listed as “depleted” below the MMPA. The inhabitants consists of simply seven people, following a dramatic decline within the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in line with NOAA.  

Well-known orcas

A picture of Keiko the orca from Free Willy at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.  Orcas: Details about killer whales missing image

Keiko the orca from Free Willy on the Oregon Coast Aquarium. (Picture credit score: Kevin Schafer through Getty Photos)

A SeaWorld orca named Tilikum was the main focus of the favored 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which took a important take a look at killer whales in captivity. Tilikum was concerned in three human deaths, together with that of SeaWorld coach Daybreak Brancheau in 2010. The documentary created a public backlash in opposition to SeaWorld, and in 2016 the marine park chain introduced that it was ending its killer whale breeding program, Reside Science beforehand reported. Tilikum died of a bacterial an infection at SeaWorld in 2017 on the age of 36. 

One other well-known captive orca was Keiko, who performed Willy within the 1993 movie “Free Willy.” Keiko lived in a marine park in Mexico, however after the movie’s launch, a global marketing campaign was launched to return him to the wild Icelandic waters from which he was captured when he was about 2 years previous. Keiko was skilled to catch wild fish and was launched off the coast of Iceland in 2002. He swam to the coast of Norway however died of pneumonia, 18 months after his launch, on the age of 27, in line with BBC Information

An all-white orca named “Iceberg” was noticed in waters across the Commander Islands, off the east coast of Russia, in 2010, Reside Science beforehand reported. The ghostly white dorsal fin of this mature male stood out dramatically from these of its black-and-white podmates. Researchers on the Far East Russia Orca Mission (FEROP), who found Iceberg, discovered extra white orcas in Russian waters, and recommended that the majority are albino, though it isn’t identified for sure, in line with WDC. Albino orcas may point out inbreeding within the inhabitants.

Associated: Gallery: Russia’s Stunning Killer Whales 

Extra sources

This text was up to date on March 23, 2021 by Reside Science employees author, Patrick Pester.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here