Killer Whale

(Orcinus Orca)


The Killer Whale is very closely categorized with the various species of dolphins. They are the largest member of that dolphin family, scientifically called the Delphinidae. You may hear the Killer Whale commonly referred to as the Orca. They are one of the most powerful of all predators in the world.


The overall size of a Killer Whale depends on the location where it lives. They can range from 19 to 21 feet long and weigh from 9,500 pounds to more than 11,800 pounds. The males are going to be larger than females. They also feature a dorsal fin that is significantly larger than what the females have.

They are black with white areas and they also have a saddle on the back which is a gray patch located behind the dorsal fin. They have very large areas of black and white that are separate and very distinctive. For example, then dorsal fin and pectoral flippers are black but the underneath area of the flukes are white with some black on them.

Above each eye is a white area of white as well as behind the eyes. The forelimbs of the Killer Whale make it possible for such a large mammal to swim. They are able to steer and navigate with the use of the flukes and the pectoral flippers.

Orca facts.

Killer Whale – Orcinus orca.


They are able to live in all of the oceans on Earth. They are even identified in the far North of the Arctic Ocean where there is plenty of ice pack. They can also be located very far South in the Antarctic Ocean. They do seem to prefer the cooler waters which is very different from the habitat of most dolphin species. Some of them do live in the tropical waters though so they seem to have a very diverse habitat selection. They will move when they need to find food, but they don’t really take part in migration patterns as you see with so many of the dolphin species.

They Killer Whale is usually going to be living in the deeper waters. They tend to stay in areas that are from 65 to 200 feet deep. However, they have been identified in some of the waters that are quite shallow around the coast lines. They can dive up to 980 feet if necessary to find food. They tend to stick very close to their home range all the time though as long as they have enough food available.


The Killer Whale is very social and they will use a variety of vocalizations to communicate with each other. In addition to the common whistles and clicks of dolphin species, they also have a variety of screams they use. Various groups or pods have been identified too with having theirown dialect. They have been observed frequently using physical contact too in order to communicate with each other. They may slap the flippers or the tail of each other. They can also bring the head above the water is what is referred to as sky hopping.

They use their vocalization for echolocation too so that they are able to find food. Each group of Killer Whales has from 40 to 50 members. There are times though when more than one group is together and so you will see significantly higher numbers. The overall structure of them is very detailed. The social unit could be a mother, her daughters that are adults, and her young offspring. They may have a bond that lasts for life and that is why they often mate outside of their own group.

They have been seen harassing various types of marine mammals, and they don’t eat them. This could be just a way to play around or it could be a way to show aggression. There are plenty of times though when they do feed in the same location as other marine mammals and they don’t seem to bother them at all. The differences in such behaviors aren’t fully understood.


Given the fact that the Killer Whale is so large, it stands to reason that they need substantial food resources. They can take on many marine mammals that are large in size. This includes sea lions, seals, and even other whales or small dolphins. They have teeth that can be up to 4 inches in length. They will also eat small prey such as bids, squid, and fish.

Examining the stomach contents, some interesting food sources have been identified. They include sea otters, turtles, penguins and a variety of other animals. They can consume up to 99 pounds of food per day, so they spend time hunting and eating what they can get access to. They are able to swallow the small prey whole. With the larger prey, they use their teeth to tear of chunks that they swallow.

Killer Whales hunt in groups, and it is usually a smaller segment of the pod that works as a team to get food for those individuals. As a team, they are often able to circle around prey and then attack it. A common technique is to stun the fish in a school by hitting them with the flukes.

Characteristics of killer whale.

Killer whales in their natural habitat.


Female Killer Whales are ready to mate in their early teens. For the males, it can be from 15 to 21 years of age. There is no set breeding time of year, and it takes from 15 to 18 months after mating for the young calf to be born. The newborn Killer Whales can be from 6 ½ to 8 feet in length. They can weigh about 300 pounds at that time! They will drink milk from the body of the mother until they are about 2 years of age.

Females have a slow rate of reproduction, anywhere from one calf every 3 to 8 years. The females often stop mating around the age of 40. However, they still play a vital role for caring for the young in their pod which is very interesting. They can live to be up to 90 years of age in the wild.

Conservation Status and Threats

The large size of the Killer Whale makes it a creature that many thrill seeking hunters are after. Even though commercial hunting and guided hunts for them have been stopped in many countries the number of them that were depleted is hard to increase. Commercial fishing has been responsible for many of them suffering severe injuries or dying. Over fishing in many locations has also depleted the ability for them to find enough food for survival.

There are National and International programs in place to help with conserving the habitat for the Killer Whale. It is hard to come up with funding for keeping them in captivity due to their enormous size and the amount of food that they consume on a daily basis. There are locations where boat traffic is controlled to help reduce the risk of injury or death to them from propellers.

The IUCN doesn’t offer sufficient data in regards to the number of Killer Whales remaining in the wild. They are listed as endangered though and if conservation efforts aren’t continued and a success they could become extinct at some point.




William F. Perrin, Bernd Würsig, J.G.M. ‘Hans’ Thewissen. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press, 2009. Page 650.

Ford, Ellis, Balcomb. Killer Whales: The Natural History and Genealogy of Orcinus Orca in British Columbia and Washington. UBC Press, 2000.



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