Fishin' for Facts: Killer Whales 

Common name: Killer Whale

Scientific name: Orcinus orca

*(pronounced: or-sine-us or-kah)


Females can reach lengths up to 24 feet and weigh between 3,000 to 8,000 lb. Males can reach lengths up to 27 feet and can weigh up to 12,000 lb. Calves are about 8 feet long and 300 to 400 pounds at birth.

From the North Pole to the South Pole from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, killer whales are found in all oceans of the world.

How do you get a name like "killer whale?" Killer whales are one of the top predators in the sea. As a group, killer whales are known to eat fish, squid, seals, sea lions, penguins, even other whales.

But, keep in mind, it would be difficult for a killer whale off the coast of California to eat a penguin. Killer whales eat the food (or prey) that's available to them. For example, a killer whale that lives in the northern Pacific can hunt harbor seals, California sea lions, and a variety of fish. A killer whale in the Antarctic could find Weddell seals, leopard seals, and penguins!

Researchers studying killer whales in the Pacific Northwest have found that some pods feed primarily on fish and others seem to prefer marine mammals.

A killer whales uses its sharp teeth to catch its prey. Killer Whales are toothed whales (odontocetes).

Scientists have determined that killer whales can live a maximum of 35 years. How? By looking at a cross-section of a killer whale's tooth. Killer whales, like other marine mammals, produce a periodic growth layer on the teeth. By counting these layers, scientists can estimate the animal's age.

You can tell an adult male from an adult female by the shape of their dorsal fin. This is a male (photo right), how do we know? A male's fin is very tall (up to 6 feet tall) and triangular shaped.  A female is shorter (3 feet) and curves back toward the dorsal fin (see the picture of the mother/calf above.)


Citation: Musgrave, Ruth A. Killer Whale. Fishin' for Facts. WhaleTimes, Inc. ( 2011

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