9 amazing facts about orcas

Discover fascinating facts about killer whales. 

Orcas live in groups called pods. © Lazareva/Getty


1. What’s in a name

The Latin name for orca or killer whale is Orcinus orca. Orcinus translates to “of the kingdom of the dead” and is probably derived from Roman God of the underworld Orcus, a reference to the fierce hunting reputation of this animal. 

2. A case of mistaken identify

Commonly known as killer whales, orcas actually belong to the dolphin family Delphinidae. The world’s largest dolphin species uses its teeth to breakdown food. 

3. Heavy weight

When born an orca weighs as much as a motorbike at about 180kg and is 2 to 3m long. An adult male can weigh about 8600kg and grow up to 10m in lenth and an adult female can weigh about 5400kg and grow up to 9m in length. 

4. Diverse diet 

Orcas have separated into two ecotypes (a distinct form or race of a animal species occupying a particular habitat). Northeastern Pacific residents are fish-eaters whereas their transient counterparts eat mostly marine mammals for example. Orcas residing in waters off New Zealand have even been known to eat sharks and rays.

5. On the hunt

Orcas are very fast swimmers and have been recorded at speeds of up to 54km/h. Herding fish before stunning them with tail strikes is one of many ways in which these predators hunt their prey. Orcas also work together in coordinated attacks to create waves that can knock prey off floating ice into the water. 

6. Clear identity 

Orcas have a distinctive appearance, a large black body, a white underside, a white patch above and behind the eye, ‘saddle patch’ behind the dorsal fin. 

7. Half asleep

Cetaceans, including orcas, have the ability to rest one side of their brain at time. This allows the side that’s awake to regulate breathing and prevents drowning, while the other side takes a nap.

8. Marine herd

A group of orcas is known as a pod. It usually consists of a mature female, her adult offspring, and her daughters’ offspring.

9. Whale talk

In the ocean orcas rely on using clicks and whistles to exchange information with the rest of the pod. At the surface they have been known to use body language to communicate, including breaching, slapping their flippers or tail, and spyhopping (bringing their head out of the water).


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