Orcas, also known as killer whales, are known to be powerful predators in the wild.
Due to their magnitude and intelligence, orcas have been caught for aquariums and marine parks since the early 1960s and are probably one of the most easily recognized cetacean species.
Let’s see some fascinating facts about orcas!
The orca (Orcinus orca) is a toothed whale and is the largest member of the Delphinidae – the family of cetaceans known as the dolphins.
Orcas can weigh up to 6 tons.
On average, Orcas can grow up to 6 to 8 m (20 to 26 ft) long.
The largest male killer whale on record was 9.8 m (32 ft), weighing over 10 tons.
Orcas have teeth on both their top and bottom jaws, 48 to 52 teeth in total, that can reach 10 cm (4 in) long. Orcas use their teeth to capture and tear food.
The average lifespan of orcas in the wild is 50 years, with a maximum of 80-90 years. But in captivity, the lifespan is significantly shorter, usually less than 20 years.
Killer whales can be found in the world’s oceans, not just in the open ocean – near shore, at the entrance to rivers, in semi-enclosed seas, and in polar regions covered with ice.
The orca is easily recognizable by its distinctive black-and-white coloring, including the “eye patch” and the tapered head shape.
An identifying characteristic of orcas is their tall, dark dorsal fin, which is much larger in males – a male’s dorsal fin can reach a height of 1.8 m (6 ft), and is shaped like a triangle. A female’s dorsal fin can reach a maximum height of about 1 m (3 ft) and have a more curved shape.
Orcas are apex predators. They are at the top of the oceanic food chain and have no natural predators.
Orcas eat fish, squid, seabirds, sea lions, and whales.
There are two types of orcas pods, resident and transient. These groups prey on different animals and use different techniques to catch them. Resident pods tend to prefer fish, while transient pods target marine mammals.
Orcas pods use effective, cooperative hunting techniques in groups of up to 40 individuals. They transmit their hunting techniques and vocalizations through generations.
Different orca pods have their own dialects of calls. Orcas use a variety of sounds for communicating, socializing, and finding prey.
Orcas use echolocation to communicate and hunt, making sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back, revealing their location, size, and shape.
A female orca gives birth to 1 calf every five years, with an average of 5 calves per lifetime.
A female orca appears to become reproductively active between the ages of 10 to 16 years old and continue through their early 40s.
Orca gestation is 13 to 17 months. A calf is born in autumn, weighing almost 180 kg (400 lbs) and measuring about 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long. A calf will remain with its mother for at least two years.
Many orcas live with their mothers for their entire lives!
Orcas generate three types of sounds: clicks, whistles, and pulsed calls.
The orca’s large size and strength make it among the fastest marine mammals, reaching speeds over 35mph (56 km/h)! And can dive to depths of over 300 feet.
The term “orca” comes from the killer whale’s scientific name, Orcinus orca. Orca is Latin for “a kind of whale.”
Orcas have the 2nd heaviest brain in the marine mammal world (sperm whales have the heaviest brain).
Living in captivity has potential effects on the orcas’ health and ability to socialize naturally due to the stress from such a small living space, demands of training, an unnatural diet, and separation from their families.
“Iceberg” is believed to be the first adult male white orca observed. This orca was spotted off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia in 2012. By the size of his dorsal fin, towering 2 m, has at least 16 years old.