What is an Orca?
SPECIES- O. orca
APPEARANCE- The Orca or otherwise commonly called the Killer Whale is perhaps the most easily identified cetacean roaming the seas and oceans today. They have a jet black, and snow-white coloration, this acts as a camoflauge while hunting, for instance, if prey is looking down on an orca in the water below them, they may not see it due to the fact that the jet blackness of their upper body blends in with the bottom of the ocean, whereas if the orca is above the prey, the prey looking up will just see the white of the orca's underbelly, which blends in with sunlight. Orcas are also know for their distinct white eye patch, found behind the eye, scientists use eye patches to identifiy individual orcas in the wild. All eye patches are practically different from others. The dorsal fins (fin on their back) differ between sex, Male orcas once fully grown, have tall, straight dorsal fins that may reach up to 6 feet high, while female dorsals are shorter and a curved, and dont grow as tall. A male orca is known as a bull, a female is known as a cow, and a baby is known as a calf. Males can grow up to 30 feet long, and weigh more thatn 12,000 lbs. Females grow to 22 feet long, and weigh up to 8,000 pounds. Calves are born 6-8 feet long and up to 350lbs.
Below: (top bull with large dorsal fin, middle cow with slanted fin, and bottom calf)
BEHAVIOUR- Orcas live in groups, called pods, their whole lives. Pods are usually led by an elder female and may have up to 50 orcas. Orcas communicate by using a echolocation, a type of sonar used by sending clicks from the melon (bulging, oily tissue in head). Whales seem to have their own language using echolocation. Orcas are very protective of one another, individuals who are injured or dying, call out in distress to their familys. Sometimes when injured, other members of the pod will come over to assist the injured whale, by holding them up above the surface to breathe, or defending them. Orcas are kinda like your typical human family, who watch and care for one another. Orcas are known to do a variety of things with their body, one move, called spy hopping, is when orcas stick their heads out of the water, to get a better look at their surroundings. Breaching, a commonly seen activity among all whale species, is the just simply put, jumping completely out of the water.
Below is a typical orca pod, notice the huge fin of the individual to the right, identifying it as a mature male or bull.
REPRODUCTION- Females give birth to one calf every 3-4 years, gestation period lasts between 15-18 months. Both Males and Females become sexually mature at about 15 years of age. Calves nurse for up to 2 years.
<< Type C Icelandic Mother and Calf
FEEDING- Orcas eat a variety of foods, depending on what group or pod they belong too. Orcas are known to eat, seals, sea lions, sharks, dolphins, porpoises, many varieties of fish, and squid. There are no known attacks on humans. An orca on average will eat up to 227lbs of food a day! Orca are know to intentially come upon shore to grab seals and sealions.
<< Transient orca sliding out to snatch a sealion
LIFESPAN- While there is much debate on the average lifespan of orcas, there really isnt an exact age that can be noted. Some sources say that females live an AVERAGE of 50 years, where as males live an AVERAGE of about 30 years, other sources say males live between 50-60 years and females live up into their 80s and 90s. There is a small handful of orcas living today above the age of 50 in the wild. A female by the name of "Granny", the matriarch of the Southern Resident community has been estimated to have been born in 1911 and is still alive! Ruffles, the patriarch of the Southern Resident community is in his mid 50s, however, many wild orcas have died in their 20s and 30s and so on. Simply put, the average lifespan of an orca differs among individuals.
SIMILIAR SPECIES- Pygmy Killer whale, False killer whale, and Risso's Dolphin.
<< False Killer Whale
Range- Orcas are found in every ocean of the world, however seem to be more common in Polar regions.
-Orca Worldwide distribution map
Status- The Orca population in general is not endangered, however individual populations, such as Southern Residents, are becoming frequently more endangered, due to pollution, lack of food etc
-Juvenile Orcas at play