Killer whales are not “true” whales. This is determined by their teeth, skull morphology (shape and structure), and size.
Killer whales are one of 76 cetacean species. This group includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
Like all cetaceans, killer whales depend on underwater sounds for survival. They communicate through a series of clicks used in echolocation, whistles, and pulsed calls. This communication system helps them to work as a group to hunt prey. Different pods have different accents, just like humans do, depending on where they live.
Killer Whales are odontocetes, or toothed whales, and can be known for their striking black and white markings. They can individually be identified by their black and white “saddle patch” and dorsal fins. The saddle patch is like a fingerprint; no two are the same. They are sometimes called “the wolf of the sea” due to their skillful hunting as a team and their sharing of their kills.
They are the largest of the dolphin family with the males reaching a potential length of 30 feet and a weight of 22,000 pounds with a dorsal fin height of 6 feet. Females reach a potential length of 28 feet and a weight of 16,500 pounds and have a smaller curved dorsal fin.
Killer whales are super intelligent and have a brain mass of 16-20 pounds !
Killer whales live in pods of 6-40 whales. They have a complex matriarchal social structure where orca males often will not associate with female orcas unless first introduced by their mother. Within each pod, families form into sub pods centered around older females, usually grandmothers or great-grandmothers. Both male and female offspring remain in close association with their mothers for life.
Killer whales are known to be fast swimmers and can swim up to 30mph and dive down to a depth of 100 feet to catch prey.
Killer whales have one blow hole and create few ripples in the ocean when they swim because the water passes through the outer layers of the epidermis.
Killer whale activities include breaching (swimming at fast speeds to break the surface of the water then coming back down in a tremendous splash), spyhopping (poking their heads out of the water to look around), and tail slapping.
Killer whales eat fish, squid, sharks, rays, seals, other whales such as the grey whale, turtles, octopi, penguins and gulls. Some pods will trap gulls by leaving bits of fish on the surface of the water and attack them when they arrive to eat it. Some pods eat mainly fish while others eat seals and still others eat a diverse diet.
Killer whales live in all the oceans of the world from the Arctic to Antarctica.
Killer whales have only one enemy: Man.
Here are a few organizations that help killer whales: