Hey guys! At the request of a friend of mine, I am doing this post all about one of the ocean’s top predators, the orca.
The orca, or killer whale as it is also called, is an apex predator and the largest member of the Delphinidae family (oceanic dolphins). It is highly intelligent, adaptable and able to communicate and coordinate hunting tactics, which gives it the capability to hunt a large variety of prey from seals to sting rays.
There is one thing I would like to address that I’m sure you’re curious about; why are they called killer whales if they are a type of dolphin? Well, first of all, dolphins and whales are closely related. Orcas were given the name ‘killer whale’ when ancient sailors observed groups of orcas hunting larger whale species, earning them the name ‘asesina ballenas’ or ‘whale killers’. The term was evantually flipped around to be ‘killer whale’. In addition, their Latin name, Orcinus orca, reflects the observation of killer whales killing whales. Orcinus translates to ‘of the kingdom of the dead’ and orca refers to a kind of whale.
Orcas are not typically a migratory species and ‘migrations’ are usually a response to the abundance of favoured prey and can sometimes be long, an example being between Alaska and California. Depending on the type of social group and location, killer whales will hunt fish, squid, seals, sea lions, seabirds, stingrays and even whales much larger than themselves. There has never been a documented orca attack on a human in the wild, and there are even some stories of orcas actually protecting humans at sea from sharks as sharks are just as easy for them to kill as any seal. Watch the clip below to really see what I mean.
Known as the wolves of the sea, killer whale pods are usually made of about 40 individuals that work together as a team to execute brilliant hunting techniques to take down their large variety of prey. One such example of an extraordinary technique the orcas have come up with can be seen below.
Orcas are highly protective of their young, and other adolescent females often assist the mother in caring for them (this is similar to other close family groups in the animal kingdom, such as herds of elephants). Mothers usually give birth every three to ten years, after a 17-month pregnancy.
Orcas are immediately recognisable by their distinctive black and white colouring, and are the intelligent, trainable stars of many aquarium shows. It is also important to note that orcas have never been extensively hunted by humans. In fact, they are often featured throughout the art, history, spirituality and religions of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast. The Haida, for example, regarded killer whales as the most powerful creatures in the ocean, and their mythology tells of orcas living in houses and towns under the waves. According to these myths, killer whales take on the forms of humans when submerged, and humans who drowned went to live with them. In other mythology, such as that of the Nuu-chah-nulth and the Kwakwaka’wakw, killer whales may embody the souls of deceased chiefs.
To find out more about these fantastic animals, go to the WDC’s website.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it, if you have any questions about killer whales or any other posts I have written, or even if you have a request for a post I should write in future. Please don’t hesitate to contact me (details can be found on my contacts page).