Amazing facts about orcas. The best way to learn and see the beautiful, Orca the killer whale, is in the wild. In this post you will learn about what do orcas eat, where do orcas live, where to see orcas in the wild, and more facts about orcas!
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Introduction: Orca Whale Facts
Orca, AKA the killer whale, is a black and white marine mammal and the largest of the dolphins. The killer whale is one of the world’s most powerful predators. They are at the top of the food chain and have a very diverse diet. They hunt for fish, penguins, seals, sea lions, other whales, squids, and seabirds. Their sharp teeth can be as long as 4 inches. They hunt in family groups called pods, of up to 40 members.
Orcas have historically been considered one species but scientists are now re-thinking this classification. They are learning there are differences between the populations from different locations. Scientists have recorded differences in genetics, diet, size, vocalizations, and even physical appearance. These different populations or ecotypes are found throughout the world.
In the Northern hemisphere, two types are commonly seeing, the Transient and the Resident. One stark difference between these two ecotypes is their preference in the diet. The transient orca targets marine mammals while the resident orca hunts for fish.
Where Do Orcas Live?
Orcas Groups or Ecotypes
Research has shown that orcas form tight-knit family groups and share unique and sophisticated cultures that get passed down to new generations. Important knowledge and survival skills such as how to and where to hunt, and what to eat, are passed down to the younger orcas within the pod. These social relationships are very important for the health of the orca. Scientists believe that these unique cultures within pods eventually led to permanent differences in their genetic makeup; forming different ecotypes that now appear to be subspecies.
Also, these self-established populations do not mate nor engage in social interactions with other populations. They are the only known species to have genetically segregated populations due to social and cultural differences and not because of geographical barriers.
Facts About Orcas
Orcas are smart and social animals and communicate with each other with a variety of sounds. Each pod has distinctive noises that its members recognize even at a distance. Just like other dolphins, they use echolocation to communicate and hunt. The sounds they emit travel underwater until they encounter objects bouncing back and revealing their location, size, and even shape.
Orcas are born with an innate drive to swim far and dive deep. They swim up to 40 miles a day and dive to depths of 100 to 500 feet several times a day. This is one of the reasons why orcas do not thrive in captivity in a restricted tank.
12 Facts About Orcas
- The scientific name is Orcinus orca
- They are about 23- 32 feet long and can weigh up to 6 tons.
- A group of orcas is called a pod.
- Their average lifespan is 50 to 80 years.
- Females give birth to one baby at a time after a 17-month gestation period. The baby orcas nurse for up to two years. Some stay with the same pod their entire life.
- Orcas are very protective of their young and other females within the pod will help protect the young.
- When food is scarce, orcas have been spotted hunting for sharks.
- Orcas do not have any organs dedicated to smell. It is believed they do not have a sense of smell.
- Like other dolphins, orcas sleep with one eye open. They cannot fall asleep completely because they need to go up to the surface to breathe, so they rest one half of the brain at a time.
- Killer whales do not follow any migration pattern, they travel hundreds of miles following fresh food, spend about 60% of their time foraging for food, and eat about 485 lbs of food a day!
- They are among the fastest swimming marine mammals; they can reach up to 30 MPH but cruise at about 2-6 MPH.
- After the sperm whale, orcas have the second-largest brain of all marine mammals.
10 Best Places To See Orcas in the Wild
Orcas are the most widely distributed mammal. They live in oceans surrounding most coastal countries. They adapt to the cold water of the south and north pole regions and can also live in the warm waters near the equator. There are several great places to see them in the wild. Here is a quick guide with 10 great places to see them and the best time of year to go to help you plan your trip.
Orcas in the Wild List
- Alaska, USA– The best place to see killer whales in North America is in Glacier National Park. They move around depending on the ice and salmon. They can be seen in Kenai Fjords National Park, resurrection bay, and Kachemak Bay.
When to go: June to September
- San Juan Island, USA – this is off the coast of Washington state. Orcas can be spotted here as well as other whales.
When to go: Mid-April to Mid-October
- California – Monterey Bay – Perfect place to see transient orcas as they pass by following food.
When to go: April
- Vancouver Island, Canada – A great place to see the resident orcas that call the southern shore home. You can go to Victoria or Telegraph Cove
When to go: May to October
- Antarctica – Here you can see the orcas and the glaciers. You can take tours departing from Ushuaia, Argentina, or New Zealand to the Ross Sea. It is estimated that half of the world’s population resides here. About 25,000 orcas!
When to go: February and March
- Argentina – Orcas can be seen in Patagonia in Peninsula Valdes. Here you can find them beached waiting to catch sea lion pups.
When to go: June to December, best time is October and November
- Iceland – In the beautiful Village of Grundarfjordor.
When to go: November to March
- Norway – The village of Andenes.
When to go: March to December
- Australia – Bremer Bay is a great place to see baby killer whales also.
When to go: July to October
- New Zealand – Auckland has a year-round resident population of orcas, with about 150 to 200 orcas often seen traveling along New Zealand’s coast.
When to go: December to March
Wildlife Conservation: Orca Status
Currently the orca appears in the IUCN Red List of threatened species as “data deficient” since 2008. This is because they have recognized the possibility that different species exist and that each experience different levels of threat. Prior to the change, they appeared as a single specie and listed as
It is estimated that there are about 50,000 orcas left in the oceans and 60 still in captivity. Being on the top of the food chain, they do not have any natural predators. The main threats to orcas all come from humans.
Main Threats to Orca’s Conservation
- Whaling – several countries still hunt and kill orcas. They include Greenland, Japan and Indonesia.
- Captivity – orcas are still taken away from their family pods to be sent to marine parks for human entertainment.
- Pollution – toxic chemicals from plastics, litter and oil spills build up in orcas, seriously harming their health and their ability to have young.
- Fishing gear – orcas get accidentally caught in fishing nets and lines, injuring or even killing them.