Orcas are giant marine mammals that closely resemble the common dolphins with whale-like behaviour. Even though they are generally called “Killer Whales”, the species barely attacks humans, and they are not whales, they belong to the dolphin family, Delphinidae, where they are the largest species.
The name “Killer Whale” is probably derived from its hunting ability of taking down large sea species. In its Latin name “Orcinus orca”, Orcinus translates to “of the kingdom of the dead”, which is derived from the Roman god of the Underworld called Orcus.
Their most distinctive appearance is their long dorsal fin and their black and white colouring.
Below are 20 fantastic facts about the marine beast.
Scientific name: Orcinus orca
Class: Mammalia (Sea mammal)
Lifespan: 50 to 100
Speed: 56 km/h
Size: up to 8 metres (26 feet) in average length
Habitat: Every ocean except Baltic sea, Black sea and some parts of the Arctic ocean
Threats: Water pollution, illegal hunting
Diet: Sea birds, octopus, squids, seals, sharks, rays, dugongs, sea turtles
About their Conservation Status, the IUCN has labelled it data deficient, due to the fact that one or more killer whale type may actually be separate, endangered species.
1. A female orca will give birth every three to ten years to one offspring at a time.
2. Gestation period of orcas usually lasts for around 17 months.
3. A baby orca is called a calf, and are about 8.5 feet (2.6 metres) long at birth.
4. Orcas can live from 50 to 100 years.
5. Female orcas raise their calves communally, often young females will help the mothers care for the young orcas.
6. Orcas massive teeth can grow up to 4 inches (10 cm) long.
7. Sometimes orcas jump from the water onto land to catch seals.
8. Orcas are very social and live in groups called pods, which have up to 40 individuals.
9. There are two different kinds of pods. A resident pod which is less aggressive and tends to prefer fish, and a transient pod which acts like a pack of wolves and is very aggressive.
10. Orcas are apex predators, at the top of the food chain. This means they have no natural predator.
11. Orcas are considered the largest species in the dolphin family. They grow from 23 to 32 feet (7 to 9.7 metres) long. The largest orca ever recorded was 32 feet long.
12. Orcas have sophisticated echolocation abilities, detecting the location and characteristics of prey and other objects in the water by emitting clicks and listening for echoes.
13. An orca’s pulse is about 60 heartbeats per minute when at the surface of the water and about 30 heartbeats per minute when submerged.
14. Occasionally, orcas swim into freshwater rivers, and have been found in the Columbia River in U.S.A, in the Fraser River in Canada and the Horikawa River in Japan.
15. On average, an orca eats up to 227 kilograms a day.
16. Orcas are very skilled hunters. When hunting a young whale, a group of orcas chases the calf and its mother to exhaustion, and then separate the pair and surround the calf, drowning it by keeping it away from the surface.
17. Orcas often sky-hop to view their surroundings. Skyhopping is a behaviour in which a whale holds its head above the water surfaces to, of course view their surroundings.
18. Wave-hunting orcas spy-hop to locate their prey resting on ice floes, and then swim in groups to cause waves that wash over the floes, later the orcas attack the prey washed into the water.
19. Orcas have the second heaviest brain among all marine mammals, after sperm whales.
20. Orcas are very playful marine species. Some researchers have described incidents in which orcas playfully tease humans by repeatedly moving objects humans are trying to reach. At time they start to toss around a chunk of ice after a human throws a snowball.
When I was still a kid I used to think orcas were the deadliest marine predators to humans after the sharks, however, thanks to Nat Geo, after watching a couple of documentaries, I came to realise how playful and cheerful these creatures are, especially the resident-type orcas.
Which of these facts was your favourite? You can let us know or add more in the comment box below.