Orca

Orcinus orca

Length

Up to 32 feet (9.6 m) for males
Up to 23 feet (8.2 m) for females

Weight

8-9 tons (7,250-8,160 kg) for males
4 tons (3,620) for females

Distribution

Found in all oceans, they are believed to be the most widely distributed cetaceans, although they are more abundant in cooler waters

Population

Unknown

Description

Orcas, or killer whales, are one of the most recognizable cetaceans in the world. They have a striking black and white color pattern and individuals can be identified by a unique white patch behind their dorsal fin called a “saddle patch”. Males are much larger than females and have a larger dorsal fin which can reach 6 feet (1.8 m) tall.

Orcas are an apex predator, meaning they are at the top of the food chain. Some populations known as “residents” stay in the same general area throughout the year following food sources. These whales typically feed on fish like salmon or herring. Transient, or Bigg’s orcas, tend to feed on larger prey such as seals, sea lions, sharks, or other whales such as gray whales. They are particularly effective hunters, reaching speeds of 30 mph in bursts and hunting in groups using echolocation. Orcas have complex social structures and in some cases are known to spend their entire lives within their family groups.

Not much is known about orca population estimates, however they are vulnerable to pollution and loss of prey as declining fish populations becomes an issue for both the fish-eating orcas and for the orcas that eat other fish-eating mammals.