Orca or Killer Whale
Killer whales pose little or no threat to humans.

 Among the best studied populations have been the pods that range along the west coast of North America, from Washington state to British Columbia, as well as additional groups in the northern Gulf of Alaska. Killer whales form stable, long term social groups, and give evidence of elaborate communication capabilities. They generally travel in groups with fewer than 20 individuals. Occasionally, larger herds of 100 or more whales may result from the temporary association of several pods.

Like all odontocetes (toothed whales), killer whales have teeth, one blowhole opening, and are capable of echolocation. Killer whales typically belong to one of two types of social groups. Extended family groups that live relatively near-shore and move somewhat seasonally over well-defined ranges of 60 miles or so are known as "resident" pods. Less well understood groups of solitary or small pods of whales which appear periodically over hundreds of miles, and travel further offshore are referred to as "transient" whales.

Adult male and female killer whales are markedly different in size, with males growing to 30 feet, and females rarely attaining lengths greater than 22 feet. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of adult males and females is the length of the dorsal fin. Male killer whale dorsal fins can reach nearly 7 feet in height, while female dorsal fins are less than three feet high.

Killer whales can live fifty years or more, reaching maturity in their early teenage years. The groups, or pods, which killer whales form are based on complex social patterns which are not well understood. Females appear to provide continuity to the groups across years, and mature females are frequently observed with mothers with calves, perhaps providing assistance in calf rearing. The social groups seem to be based on a dominant male in the company of a small number of females with whom he mates. These associations last over many years.

At one time, killer whales were taken in large numbers to be kept captive for public display. Concerns about the effect on pod stability resulting from removing animals has led to a tendency to protect these groups from capture. Although killer whales are found in many parts of the world, the full extent of their behavior and life history remains to be learned. What does seem to be true is that, although killer whales are intelligent, socially complex, and competent predators, they pose little or no threat to humans, and are an important part of the marine ecosystem.

Certain marine mammal species have the ability to produce very high frequency sounds, which can be transmitted over long distances. The sound strikes objects in the water, such as fish, land formations or ocean flora. The "echo" from the sound returns to the transmitting animal, and provides information about the nature of the object. This capability is referred to as "echolocation," since the animals are able to locate objects in the water on the basis of the returning echo. Only toothed whales (odontocetes) have been found to possess echolocating capabilities.

Echolocation sounds are produced in air sacs attached to the respiratory tract, and are directed through fatty deposits in the forehead (the "melon"). The sounds are produced in pulses, so that as the echo from each pulse returns, the animal is able to compare it with the outgoing pulses. The difference between the two provides the animal with information about the distance to the object, the size of the object, its shape, and even the material from which it is made. To the human ear, the echolocation pulses sound like a series of rapid clicks, because we can only hear a portion of the frequencies which are contained in the pulsed sounds.

Echolocating abilities are not well understood, but it seems clear that it is a highly adaptive mechanism for quickly scanning the environment to find out what may be beyond the limits of visibility beneath the water's surface.

For general information on killer whales, refer to the following:
Center for Whale Research
For scientific information related to killer whales, refer to:
Dalhousie University Killer Whale Research

The Latest news on Killer Whales

Killer whale pod attacks gray whale mother and calf
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom - 17 hours ago
A pod of killer whales line up for a murderous attack on a migrating Gray whale and her calf off the coast of Monterey in California. ...
PICTURED: The killer orca whales who will attack their own for the ...
Daily Mail, UK - Aug 29, 2008
These shocking images show how killer whales will stop at nothing to get their feed - even if it involves attacking their own kind. ...
BC man who barreled through pod of killer whales fined $3500
The Canadian Press, VANCOUVER - Aug 14, 2008
VANCOUVER A British Columbia man who mowed over a pod of killer whales at full speed in his boat, either hitting or just missing one of the endangered ...
BC man fined for speeding through whale pod CTV.ca
Man fined for disturbing whale pod with speeding boat Globe and Mail
all 18 news articles 
Killer whales visit Batemans Marine Park
Narooma News, Australia - Aug 26, 2008
A pod of killer whales has been spotted by Batemans Marine Park staff in the Sanctuary Zone south east of Montague Island in the last few days. ...
Killer whales seen off South Coast Illawarra Mercury
all 2 news articles 
New baby killer whale joins pod off Vancouver Island
Canada.com, Canada - Aug 13, 2008
VICTORIA -- Whale watchers are celebrating the sight of a new baby whale swimming with one of three endangered pods of killer whales off the coast of ...

For more information, contact us at:
Pacific Whale Foundation
101 North Kihei Road
Kihei, HI 96768

Copyright 1999 Pacific Whale Foundation
May be duplicated only in its entirety for classroom use.

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