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    Facts about orcas (killer whales)

    Orcas, also known as killer whales, are are the largest member of the dolphin family. Threats to orcas include hunting and captivity.

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    Home > About whales & dolphins > Facts about orcas (killer whales)

    Orcas (also known as killer whales) are marine mammals. They belong to the sub-order of toothed whales (known as odontocetes) but are also the largest member of the dolphin family.

    Orcas are incredibly popular as they are the most widely distributed of all whales and dolphins, found in every single ocean. They are very familiar with their black and white colouring but actually, depending on where they live, have very different appearances, behaviour, ways of communicating and diet! Find out some amazing facts about orcas and their incredible lives.

    Ten facts about orcas (killer whales)

    Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family.

    A male orca can be nearly ten metres in length and weight 10,000kg.

    Orcas are highly intelligent and able to coordinate hunting tactics.

    Female orcas are thought to live to 80 years of age or more.

    The dorsal fin of a male orca is up to two metres tall.

    Orcas are extremely fast swimmers and have been recorded at speeds of up to 54kph.

    A wild orca pod can cover over 160 kilometres a day, foraging and socialising.

    They were give the name "killer whale" by ancient sailors who saw them preying on large whales.

    Orcas are still hunted in some countries, such as Greenland.

    Different kinds of orcas are called "ecotypes". They hunt specific prey and live in different parts of the world.

    Why are orcas called 'killer whales' when they are dolphins?

    Dolphins and whales are closely related. Orcas were given the name ‘killer whale’ by ancient sailors’ observations of groups of orcas hunting and preying on larger whale species. They called orcas asesina ballenas, or ‘whale killer’ – a term that was eventually flipped around to the easier ‘killer whale’. Their Latin name, Orcinus orca, also reflects this observation of orcas feeding on large whales. Orcinus translates to ‘of the kingdom of the dead,’ and orca refers to a kind of whale. We know that orcas are top predators, yes, but not the vicious ‘whale killers’ that the ancient mariners thought them to be. If you could give orcas another name, what would you call them?

    What do orcas eat?

    Looking at all populations, orcas are generalist eaters, consuming fish, seals and sea lions, dolphins and porpoises, sharks and rays, large whales, cephalopods (octopods and squids), seabirds and more. However, some orcas specialise on specific prey, and it turns out orcas are picky eaters! Once they’ve learned what their family eats, they aren’t likely to switch diets.

    How do orcas sleep?

    Orcas sleep in a very different way to humans. We have a breathing reflex and when we sleep or become unconscious, we continue to breath automatically. Orcas cannot sleep in this way, they have to remain conscious, even when they are sleeping! This is because their breathing is not automatic - they have to actively decide when to breath, and so they must be conscious even when sleeping. If like us, orcas went into a deep unconscious sleep, they would stop breathing and suffocate or drown.

    To get around this, orcas only allow one half of their brains to sleep at a time; the other half stays alert enabling them to continue breathing whilst looking out for dangers in the environment. They only close one eye when they sleep; the left eye will be closed when the right half of the brain sleeps, and vice versa. This type of sleep is known as unihemispheric sleep as only one brain hemisphere sleeps at a time. Orcas periodically alternate which side is sleeping so that they can get the rest they need without ever losing consciousness. When sleeping, orcas swim very slowly and steadily, close to the surface.

    How do orcas communicate?

    In orca populations, knowledge is passed down to younger individuals from their elders – what to eat and were to find it, how to catch it, who to avoid, vocalisations and calls unique to pods and family groups, and the distinct ‘accent’ of the population.


    Different types of orcas

    Having multiple prey items to choose from probably led to the niche specialisations we see today – millions of year ago, different groups started eating different things to avoid competing for the same food. Now these groups are genetically different, in addition to their unique appearance and cultures.

    Scientists now recognise several kinds of orcas (called ecotypes). They hunt specific prey and live in different parts of the world. Find out more about them.

    Orca videos

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    @[email protected]#=img=#

    What threats do orcas face?

    Orcas worldwide face a number of threats. They get caught in fishing nets and gear accidentally, face problems with toxic waste and pollution in the sea. Increase in boat traffic can result in collisions with orcas and an increase in underwater noise pollution.

    In some regions – Greenland, Japan, Indonesia, and some Caribbean islands – they are still victims of whaling efforts. Historically, populations in the Pacific Northwest and North Atlantic were targeted for live captures to be sold to oceanariums like SeaWorld. The Southern Residents were extensively targeted and still struggle to recover – they have never come close to regaining their pre-capture population numbers. Orcas in the Pacific waters off Russia are still captured and sold into captivity.

    Source : uk.whales.org

    Killer Whale

    The killer whale is the largest member of the dolphin family. The population of Southern Resident killer whales in the Pacific Northwest is one of the most critically endangered marine mammals. Learn about our work to protect and conserve killer whales.

    Killer Whale

    Killer Whale Killer Whale

    Orcinus orca

    Also Known As Orca

    Protected Status


    Southern Resident DPS


    Throughout its Range


    Throughout its Range

    MMPA DEPLETED AT1 Transient stock

    Quick Facts

    WEIGHT Up to 11 tons LENGTH Up to 32 feet LIFESPAN 30 to 90 years THREATS

    Chemical contaminants, Disturbance from vessel traffic and noise, Entanglement in fishing gear, Food limitations, Oil spills


    Alaska, New England/Mid-Atlantic, Pacific Islands, Southeast, West Coast

    See Regulatory Actions

    Pod of killer whales. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

    Pod of killer whales. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

    About the Species

    The killer whale, also known as orca, is the ocean’s top predator. It is the largest member of the Delphinidae family, or dolphins. Members of this family include all dolphin species, as well as other larger species, such as long-finned pilot whales and short-finned pilot whales, whose common names also contain "whale" instead of "dolphin."

    Found in every ocean in the world, they are the most widely distributed of all cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Scientific studies have revealed many different populations with several distinct ecotypes (or forms) of killer whales worldwide—some of which may be different species or subspecies. They are one of the most recognizable marine mammals, with their distinctive black and white bodies. Globally, killer whales occur in a wide range of habitats, in both open seas and coastal waters. Taken as a whole, the species has the most varied diet of all cetaceans, but different populations are usually specialized in their foraging behavior and diet. They often use a coordinated hunting strategy, working as a team like a pack of wolves.

    Hunters and fishermen once targeted killer whales. As a result, historical threats to killer whales included commercial hunting and culling to protect fisheries from killer whales. In addition, although live capture of killer whales for aquarium display and marine parks no longer occurs in the United States, it continues to remain a threat globally. Today, some killer whale populations face many other threats, including food limitations, chemical contaminants, and disturbances from vessel traffic and sound. Efforts to establish critical habitat, set protective regulations, and restore prey stocks are essential to conservation, especially for the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.

    All killer whale populations are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Only two populations receive additional special protections under federal law:

    Southern Resident Distinct Population Segment (DPS) (listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act

    AT1 Transient stock (designated as depleted under the MMPA)

    Southern Resident killer whales are the only endangered population of killer whales in the United States, ranging from central California to southeast Alaska. Long-term commitments across state and international borders are needed to stabilize the Southern Resident population and prevent their extinction. The Southern Resident killer whale is one of NOAA Fisheries' Species in the Spotlight. This initiative includes animals considered most at risk for extinction and prioritizes recovery efforts.

    NOAA Fisheries is committed to the conservation of killer whales and the protection and recovery of endangered populations. Our scientists and partners use a variety of innovative techniques to study and protect them. We also work with our partners to develop regulations and management plans that protect killer whales and their food sources, decrease contaminants in oceans, reduce ocean noise, and raise awareness about the whales and the actions people can take to support their recovery.

    Population Status

    Several different populations and ecotypes of killer whales are found throughout the world. NOAA Fisheries estimates population size in our stock assessment reports. It is estimated that there are around 50,000 killer whales globally. Approximately 2,500 killer whales live in the eastern North Pacific Ocean—home to the most well-studied killer whale populations.

    In recent decades, several populations of killer whales have declined and some have become endangered. The population of AT1 Transients, a stock of Transient killer whales in the eastern North Pacific, has been reduced from 22 to 7 whales since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. In 2004, NOAA Fisheries designated this stock as depleted under the MMPA based on the results of the status review (PDF, 25 pages).

    Scientists estimate the minimum historical population size of Southern Residents in the eastern North Pacific was about 140 animals. Following live-capture in the 1960s for use in marine mammal parks, 71 animals remained in 1974. Although there was some growth in the population in the 1970s and 1980s, with a peak of 98 animals in 1995, the population experienced a decline of almost 20 percent in the late 1990s, leaving 80 whales in 2001. The 2020 population census counted only 72 whales, and three new calves have been born following the census bringing the total of this struggling population to 75. In 2003, NOAA Fisheries began a research and conservation program with congressional funding to address the dwindling population. Southern Residents were listed as Endangered in 2005 under the ESA and a recovery plan was completed in 2008.

    Source : www.fisheries.noaa.gov


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    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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    For other uses, see Orca (disambiguation).

    "Killer whale" redirects here. For episode, see Killer Whale (The Avengers).

    Orca Killer whale[1]

    Temporal range: Pliocene to recent[2]

    PreꞒ Ꞓ O S D C P T J K Pg N

    Transient orcas near Unimak Island, eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska

    Size compared to a 1.80-metre (5 ft 11 in) human

    Conservation status

    Data Deficient (IUCN 3.1)[3]

    CITES Appendix II (CITES)[4]

    Scientific classification

    Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Artiodactyla Infraorder: Cetacea Family: Delphinidae Genus: Species: Binomial name

    (Linnaeus, 1758)[5] range Synonyms Linnaeus, 1758 Bonnaterre, 1789 (Bonnaterre, 1789)

    The orca or killer whale () is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, of which it is the largest member. It is recognizable by its black-and-white patterned body. A cosmopolitan species, orcas can be found in all of the world's oceans in a variety of marine environments, from Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas.

    Orcas have a diverse diet, although individual populations often specialize in particular types of prey. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals such as seals and other species of dolphin. They have been known to attack baleen whale calves, and even adult whales. Orcas are apex predators, as they have no natural predators. They are highly social; some populations are composed of very stable matrilineal family groups (pods) which are the most stable of any animal species. Their sophisticated hunting techniques and vocal behaviours, which are often specific to a particular group and passed across generations, have been described as manifestations of animal culture.

    The International Union for Conservation of Nature assesses the orca's conservation status as data deficient because of the likelihood that two or more orca types are separate species. Some local populations are considered threatened or endangered due to prey depletion, habitat loss, pollution (by PCBs), capture for marine mammal parks, and conflicts with human fisheries. In late 2005, the southern resident orcas, which swim in British Columbia and Washington waters, were placed on the U.S. Endangered Species list.

    Wild orcas are not considered a threat to humans, and no fatal attack on humans has ever been documented. There have been cases of captive orcas killing or injuring their handlers at marine theme parks. Orcas feature strongly in the mythologies of indigenous cultures, and their reputation in different cultures ranges from being the souls of humans to merciless killers.


    1 Naming

    2 Taxonomy and evolution

    2.1 Types

    3 Appearance and morphology

    4 Range and habitat 4.1 Population 5 Feeding 5.1 Fish

    5.2 Mammals and birds

    6 Behaviour

    6.1 Social structure

    6.2 Vocalizations 6.3 Intelligence 7 Life cycle 8 Conservation

    9 Relationship with humans

    9.1 Indigenous cultures

    9.2 "Killer" stereotype

    9.3 Modern Western attitudes

    9.4 Whaling

    9.4.1 Cooperation with humans

    9.5 Whale watching 9.6 Captivity 10 See also 11 Footnotes 12 References 13 Further reading 14 External links


    Orcas are commonly referred to as "killer whales", despite being a type of dolphin.[6] Since the 1960s, the use of "orca" instead of "killer whale" has steadily grown in common use.[7]

    The genus name means "of the kingdom of the dead",[8] or "belonging to Orcus".[9] Ancient Romans originally used (pl. ) for these animals, possibly borrowing Ancient Greek ὄρυξ (), which referred (among other things) to a whale species. As part of the family Delphinidae, the species is more closely related to other oceanic dolphins than to other whales.[10]

    They are sometimes referred to as "blackfish", a name also used for other whale species. "Grampus" is a former name for the species, but is now seldom used. This meaning of "grampus" should not be confused with the genus , whose only member is Risso's dolphin.[11]

    Taxonomy and evolution

    fossil, an extinct species of the same genus, Museo Capellini in Bologna

    Modern orca skeleton, Naturalis, Leiden

    is the only recognized extant species in the genus , and one of many animal species originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his landmark 1758 10th edition of .[12] Konrad Gessner wrote the first scientific description of an orca in his of 1558, part of the larger , based on examination of a dead stranded animal in the Bay of Greifswald that had attracted a great deal of local interest.[13]

    Source : en.wikipedia.org

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