Where does it get its name?
Killer whales are thought to get their name from observations of these animals hunting large whales, being “whale killers”. The name “orca” comes from their scientific name, Orcinus orca.
Whale SENSE Region Found:
- Southern Resident DPS
Protected throughout its range
Depleted populations: AT1 Transient stock
Where to watch:
Open seas and coastal waters
What to watch for:
Blow: Short blow, dissipates quickly
Diving: Will show it’s dorsal fin at the surface, but will not show its fluke on a dive
Body: Black and white coloration, including large white patch above their eye
Size: Length: 23 – 32 feet, Weight: Up to 11 tons (females are smaller than males)
Ecotypes in Alaska
While killer whales are still considered one species, they are divided into different populations and distinct ecotypes. These ecotypes are thought to be both socially and genetically isolated. Preferred prey and social structure are the main distinctions that separate these groups.
Prey: fish (including salmon, herring, rockfish, and halibut) and cephalopods (squid)
Social structure: Live in stable matrilineal groups, led by the eldest female, her offspring, and the offspring of her daughter(s). Closely related matrilines come together to form larger social groups called pods.
Prey: marine mammals including seals, porpoises, and large whales
Social structure: Generally form smaller and more fluid social groups that often contain unrelated females and their offspring. Large groups may form as temporary foraging packs.
Offshore Killer Whales
Prey: fish and sometimes shark
Social structure: less is known about offshore killer whales. It is thought that they have a matrilineal social structure that resident and transient killer whales. However, they are very social, often found in large aggregations of 50 to more than 100 individuals.
Did you know?
- Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family
- A newborn baby orca weighs as much as a motorbike at about 180kg, and they’re 2-3m long