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Killer Whales: Interesting and Fun Facts, Videos, Photos, and Links About Orcas
Orcas, or "Killer" Whales
Orca whales have always fascinated me. While they are also called "killer" whales, they are actually majestic, social marine mammals. Below, you will find some interesting facts about the orca, videos I like, and a few useful links.
If you have any other information you'd like to share, please leave a comment in the comment box below.
Orca Whale Anatomy
Orca Whale Facts
- Orca whales are highly social mammals and the largest species in the dolphin family. An orca group is called a pod.
- Female orcas, or cows, usually have five calves during their lifetime and live to be around 50.
- Male orcas, or bulls, live to about 45. Both males and females have been documented to almost 90 although this is rare.
- Male orcas on average are 23 feet long and 7-10 tons; female orcas are on average 21 feet long and 4-6 tons
- Orcas can be found in all of earth's oceans, from the cold Antarctic to the warmer Pacific, but they prefer the cooler waters.
- Orcas can swim up to 30 mph.
- Whales have up to nine times more myoglobin in their blood than humans. Myoglobin carries oxygen through their bodies and helps them hold their breath longer.
Video: Orcas Working Together to Hunt
This is my favorite orca video. Three or four orcas are working together to create a wave to push a sea lion off a large piece of ice. In this particular video they are teaching their young how to hunt.
Types of Orcas
- Orcas can be classified into three groups: Resident orcas are the most commonly seen and are found in the northeastern Pacific waters. They primarily eat fish; Transient orcas feed primarily on marine mammals, not fish, and travel alone or in smaller pods of 2-6 orcas; Offshore orcas feed on fish, sharks, and turtles and can be found in pods of up to 60 whales.
- Transient orcas were first thought to be outcasts, hence the name. According to recent genetic research, they are in fact a different community, and have not interbred with resident or offshore orcas for 10,000 years.
- Orcas have social hierarchies usually led by a female.
Video: Orcas Playing with Prey
This footage is unbelievable. Watch through to the end. The orcas play with the sea lion pup by tossing it back and forth like a ball,.
- Orcas are verbal animals and, like other mammals in the ocean, use echolocation to find prey and navigate their surroundings.
- Each of these three different types of orcas has its own verbal patterns. Resident orcas are much more vocal than transients. It is believed that this is because transient orcas feed mainly on marine mammals that have acute underwater hearing and need to be silent to hunt successfully. Resident orcas feed on fish that have poor underwater hearing so being vocal does not affect their hunting capabilities.
- Even individual orca pods use different learned dialects to communicate. Each pod has its own set of sounds that distinguish them from other pods. Mother orcas have been recorded teaching their calves the pod dialect in a simpler form, like a human mother teaches her child to speak.
Video: Orca Whale versus a Great White
Orcas are mammals that feed on fish and other sea mammals. They have been known to eat other large whales and even great white sharks.
Video: Orcas Spy Hopping
Orcas will "spy hop," or peek above the surface, in order to see what is happening above the water, especially in icy waters, to see if seals or other animals are lying on the ice.
Threats to Orca Whales
- Whaling is no longer the biggest threat to whales. In 1972 the Marine Mammal Act began protecting these magnificent animals.
- However, there has been a 20% decline in killer whale population since 1995. One major cause is human contamination of their waters. Recent studies have found that they are among the most contaminated marine mammals.
- Pollutants stored in the whale's blubber may be released into the body when the whale hunts. This occurs at an increasing rate because noise pollution in ocean water effects orca echolocation, forcing the whales to work harder to find their food. University of Washington researchers found that whale watching boat traffic decreased the whale's use of sonar by 95-99%.
Video: The Woman who Swims with Killer Whales
In this amazing footage from the BBC, a woman from New Zealand shares her passion to understand and protect orca whales.