Orca

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Killer whale (Orcinus orca), 3 year old female babysitting. Puget Sound, Washington, USA.
© WWF-Canon / William W. ROSSITER

The wolf of the sea - a shrewd predator

What
Orcas (Orcinus orca) are toothed whales (Suborder Odontoceti), also known as killer whales. They are found in all the world’s oceans, living in waters ranging from tropical to arctic, and both coastal and deep oceanic waters. Orcas sometimes enter estuaries, but never venture far from the sea.

Orcas have a single blowhole. They are social creatures and live in close-knit, life-long pods of about 30. The killer whale belongs to the family of dolphins and is the biggest dolphin. It is sometimes called the 'wolf of the sea' because its predatory behavior is similar to that of wolves.

About
Orcas grow to be about 8-10 m long, weighing more than 6 tonnes. The male orca is larger than the female. Unlike most dolphins, the pectoral fin of an orca is large and rounded.

Their skin is mostly black with distinctive white patches. Orcas have stocky bodies and a rounded head with a distinctive beak. An average-sized orca will eat 250 kg of food a day. Orcas are efficient hunters that eat a very diverse diet of fish, squid, sharks, marine mammals (including seals), turtles, octopi, and birds (penguins and gulls). They use a range of methods to hunt their prey, including tipping over ice floes to unbalance seals and penguins.

Why
Orcas can dive to a depth of 30 m in order to hunt. Orcas are very fast swimmers and boast a variety of elaborate surface habits, including spy hopping, tail and flipper slapping, and breaching.

Orcas are well known for their mental capabilities. Studies have indicated that an Orca has an outstanding memory, perhaps even photographic. In tests conducted with Orcas in captivity, they recalled testing patterns up to 25 years after they were initially conducted. They are sometimes referred to as blackfish, a group including pilot whales, pygmy and false killer whales, and melon-headed whales.

Your chances of seeing one in the wild
The orca or killer whale is a toothed whale that is an efficient predator. Their only enemy is mankind. Orcas were targeted in commercial whaling during the middle part of the 20th century once stocks of larger species had been depleted.

Although Orcas are not an endangered species, some local populations are considered threatened or endangered due to pollution, depletion of prey species, conflicts with fishing activities and vessels, habitat loss, and whaling.

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