Description: The magnificent Orca is mostly shiny black, with white underparts and the distinctive white oval over the eye. Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family. They have tall dorsal fins and large flippers. The male’s dorsal fin is taller than the female’s, and stands more upright. Orcas can grow to lengths of 33 feet and usually weigh from 8,000 – 12,000 pounds (4 to 6 tons).
Social Life/Diet: The Orca is one of the most interesting animals in the world. They are extremely social animals and usually live in pods of 6 to 40 individuals. Members of the pod establish strong bonds which last for life. Orcas use clicks, whistles, and screams to communicate with each other and to locate food. Each pod has its own set of vocalizations.
Members of the pod hunt together in extraordinary ways. In the open ocean, Orcas may team up and surround a large whale. Together, they will attack the whale from all directions in a violent battle. Near Antarctica, several Orcas from a pod may swim close to shore and come crashing to the sand behind the breaking waves to attack unsuspecting seals. The Orcas will then bring the seal back to the open ocean. Sometimes, they throw the seals in the air like rag dolls. Orcas will eat a wide variety of prey such as fish, turtles, sharks, whales, penguins, gulls, squid and octopi. Orcas consume over 500 pounds of food per day! Orcas may dive to depths of 100 feet below the surface of the water.
Range/Habitat: The Orca is found throughout the world’s oceans, except in the northern-most reaches of the Arctic Ocean. Orcas usually don’t make long seasonal migrations, but may travel long distances looking for food. Orcas are common and not endangered.
Behavior: Like many whales, Orcas often breach. When whales swim quickly to surface for the purpose of propelling their body out of the water, it is called a breach. Breaches are often spectacular displays and result in huge splashes. Orcas also commonly slap their tails against the water, and even poke their heads out of the water to look around (called spyhopping).
Young/Reproduction: Orcas breed in the spring in warm water. Calves are born tail first after a 16 month gestation period sometime between October and March. The baby whale can swim on its own after 30 minutes. Calves normally weigh about 400 pounds. The young Orca may stay with its mother for over a year. Male Orcas live to about 50 years, while female Orcas may live to 90 years!