Killer Whale Facts ~ Orca Facts

by Robert Cheney

in Dolphins, Mammals, Sea Life, Whales

Is it Orca or killer whale?
“Orca” short for its scientific name (Orcinus orca) . Killer whale is its common name. Either are acceptable.

Why are they called killer whales?
Their scientific name is Orcinus orca which is why they’re called Orcas too. The term killer whale has been used for 2000 years due to their intimidating presence as the apex predator of the ocean. One of its first published appearances is in Pliny the Elder’s: Natural History. In this 1st century publication, the Roman scholar writes, “A killer whale cannot be properly depicted or described except as an enormous mass of flesh armed with savage teeth.” 1

Is the killer whale a dolphin or a whale?
It’s a dolphin, but all dolphins are a sub-category of whales. So, it’s in the whale general class but specifically, it’s in the dolphin family.

Do killer whales have a sense of smell and which sense is primary?
No, they have no sense of smell. Their primary sense is echolocation.

Are killer whales above the great white shark in the food chain?
Yes. Killer whales have no predators (including themselves) and eat great whites, while great whites occasionally eat each other.

2 Male Killer Whales

2 Male Killer Whales

Have killer whales ever attacked humans in the wild?
There has been 1 confirmed case from 1972 where a surfer did get non-fatal bite on his left leg. Read about it here. This was generally considered a test bite by the killer whale and not a full-fledged attack.  Captive killer whales have attacked and killed humans.

Why don’t killer whales attack humans?
Because humans are not their natural prey and because they are picky eaters. The complexity of their social units (pods) might deem dining on humans as not acceptable behavior (read a more in-depth explanation here).

Should ‘killer whale’ be capitalized in a sentence?
Not according to NOAA Fisheries. Only capitalize the proper name part, if there is one:  Fraser’s dolphin, Hector’s dolphin.

What is the closest relative to a killer whale?
The Irrawaddy dolphin.

Irrawaddy Dolphin

Irrawaddy Dolphin
Picture: WWF/FisheriesAdministration

How long do killer whales live for?
50 -90 years.

How big do killer whales get?
6 tons and up to 31 feet in length. About the size of a school bus.

How many teeth do killer whales have?
Around 40 that can reach 4 inches long.

Killer Whale Teeth

Killer Whale Teeth
Credit: USFWS.

Has a dog ever attacked a killer whale?
Fortunately for the Orca, no. This one came the closest, though:

What is the anatomy of a killer whale?
Here is a picture naming the exterior parts of a killer whale:

Killer Whale Anatomy

Killer Whale Anatomy
from: Wikimedia

Are killer whales solitary animals?
Not at all. They have a complex society consisting of: community, pods, sub-pods, resident pods, transient pods, clans, maternal groups and groups. SeaWorld has a detailed explanation of killer whale social structure.

Are the females in charge?
Yes. Killer whale pods are based on the females (mothers, daughters, and sons form groups).

Do all-black or all-white killer whales exist?
An all-black killer whale has not been seen although they are probably exist, based on probability alone.
An all white killer was filmed in April 2012 for the first time:

Where do killer whales live?
They are found everywhere but prefer cooler waters and coastal regions as opposed to pelagic zones. They are frequently found off Iceland, Antarctica, Norway and in the Pacific of North America.

How many killer whales are there?
50,000 2

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

drthomasburks September 14, 2014 at 6:49 pm

“Either are acceptable” stated above with respect to the 2 names Orca, Killer Whale, is SO
grammatically incorrect. “Either (name) IS acceptable”


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