KILLER WHALE BIOLOGY
fast facts

fast facts | behavior | diet | acoustics | identification | biopsy sampling and DNA analysis | anatomy

killer whale

Common name
Killer whale
Scientific name
Orcinus orca
Body size
adult female up to 7m; weighs up to 7,500 kg; dorsal fin up to 1m
adult male up to 9m; weighs up to 10,000 kg; dorsal fin up to 2mnewborn calf up to 2.5m; weighs up to 200 kg
Average life expectancy
females: 50 years (can live up to 80 or 90 yrs)males: 30 years (can live up to 50 or 60 yrs)
Vocal behavior
Killer whales produce three types of vocalizations: echolocation clicks are used for orientation and to find prey whistles appear to function in short-range communication pulsed calls are highly stereotyped and likely function in long range communication. Repertoires of pulsed calls differ between social groups and populations.
Physical characteristics
Orcas are distinctively coloured. The dorsal surface is mostly black except for a grey saddle behind the dorsal fin. The underside of the body and underside of flukes are white and there is a white eyespot behind each eye.
Travel speeds
one of the fastest animals in the searecord holder is a male timed at 55.5 km/h (34.5 mph).short bursts: 45 km/htypical traveling speed: 6-8 km/h

Vharacteristics of three types of killer whales:
Residents Transients Offshores

Diet
Fish, especially salmon with a focus on chinook and chum Seals, sea lions, porpoises, and small whales Not certain: scientists believe they feed on giant squids and possibly sharks
Dorsal fin
Rounded tip usually with sharper angle at the rear corner Fin tip is generally pointed Rounded over tip, usually lacks the sharper angle at the rear corner
Saddle patch
Open saddle patch often seen Saddle patch large and uniformly grey Saddle patch either solid grey or open
Social structure
Live in a matriarchal society: male and female offspring remain with their mother as long as she is alive Social structure of transients is much looser than the resident form Unknown but usually encountered in large groups
Sounds
Very vocal.Whales that share stereotyped calls are grouped together as clans Are stealth hunters that echolocate rarely, presumably use passive listening to find their prey. Tend to vocalize during or directly following a kill Distinct calls from transients and residents. Frequently vocal, use lots of echolocation
Typical dive times
3 – 5 minutes 7 – 10 minutes Unknown
Distribution
All along the western coast of North America from Southeast Alaska to California. Maybe Aleutian islands All along the western coast of North America from Southeast Alaska to California. Maybe Aleutian islands Far from coastline, encountered near Queen Charlottes, West Coast of Vancouver Island, seen as far south as Los Angeles
Conservation status

Northern Resident – Threatened (COSEWIC)

Southern Resident – Endangered (COSEWIC, US Endangered Species Act)

West Coast Transient – Threatened (COSEWIC); AT1 Transient – Depleted (US Marine Mammal Protection Act)
Population of special concern (COSEWIC)
Conservation status

Northern Resident – Threatened (COSEWIC)

Southern Resident – Endangered (COSEWIC, US Endangered Species Act)

West Coast Transient – Threatened (COSEWIC); AT1 Transient – Depleted (US Marine Mammal Protection Act)
Population of special concern
(COSEWIC)
 

turnpage

Next page killer whale anatomy