Also known as orcas, killer whales are members of the oceanic dolphin family that can be found in all of the world’s oceans. Killer whales are renowned for their intelligence, and have been regarded as having the most complex hunting techniques of any carnivore.
Male Killer Whale (Orca)
Female Killer Whale (Orca)
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Artiodactyla
Family - Delphinidae
Genus – Orcinus
Species – O. orca
Common Names – Killer Whale, Orca, Blackfish, Grampus
Despite the name "Killer Whale", these creatures are actually the largest members of the dolphin family. They are massive mammals, easily identified by their black and white coloration. While currently, all killer whales fall under the same species of Orcinus orca, there are known to be several distinct populations that differ greatly in their habits, diet and appearance. With more study, new species and subspecies may be classified.
Typically females have sickle-shaped, shorter dorsal fins, while males have high, triangular dorsal fins.
Killer whale females can produce offspring from age ten to around age 40, after which they undergo menopause. Males mate with females outside of their own pod to avoid inbreeding. Typically one calf is produced per female every five years or so.
Killer whale behavior varies wildly, as there are many distinct populations. For example, "Resident" and "Offshore" orcas eat primarily fish, while "Transient" whales feed entirely on marine mammals (such as seals, whales and dolphins). Some populations form very large and very intricate pods, while others travel in smaller groups that are less dependent on each other. Killer whales are apex predators in the ocean, and are one of the few animals known to successfully attack and prey on great white sharks.
Orcas are highly intelligent and form some of the most complex social groups known in the animal kingdom, second only to those found in apes and elephants. Though their name is fearsome, there has never been a report of a killer whale actually killing a human in the wild. In fact, these whales have actually been recorded assisting humans in hunting larger whales.
Killer whales have a rich history with the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest. Many tribes feature legends in which the whales are a powerful entity, worthy of great respect.
Perhaps because of its size or its iconic look, the Killer Whale has been the subject of countless scientific studies, and we now know a great deal about these apex predators. They’ve been studied especially extensively since the 1970s, and we’ve learned more about their cognitive and sensory abilities, their social structures, their populations, and their behavior. For example, we know now that some populations are residents of certain coastal areas, while other populations are transient. We know they eat localized diets, but taken together, Killer Whales consume an impressive variety of prey worldwide. We’ve even discovered that Killer Whales affect whale migration, as the massive beasts often move to warmer waters to calf, where they will be free from interference by the predators.
Interestingly, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature currently classifies the killer what as data deficient in regards to their population numbers because of the belief that there are actually multiple killer whale species. Overarchingly, they are believed to be densely populated due to their enormous range, although some local populations are considered threatened or endangered, primarily due to habitat degradation and a loss of suitable prey.