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Killer whales, also referred to as Orca whales, are extremely memorable sea creatures, characterized by their black backs and white underbellies. They are an incredibly exciting species to witness on whale watching tours, due to their lively and playful nature. Before taking an adventure on a cruise to see them up close and person, take some time to learn more about them. If you want the low down on some exciting orca whale facts, we’ve got you covered!
- Despite their name, killer (orca) whales are actually classified in the oceanic dolphin family. They are the largest dolphin species at that! They received their name “killer whale”, because ancient sailors observed orcas hunting on larger whale species. They began to call orcas “whale killers”, which eventually got flipped around and became “killer whale”.
- Orca whales are a toothed whale with a largely diverse carnivorous diet consisting of larger cetaceans such as fish, squid, seabirds, and other marine mammals such as sea lions, penguins, walruses, sea turtles, and seals. They have about 45 teeth, each 4 inches long, that are used to break down prey. However, if the prey is small enough, orcas will just swallow them whole.
- An average adult orca can be 23-32 feet – almost the length of a school bus. They can weigh up to 6 tons or 12,000 pounds!
- Killer whales have a massive appetite. An average-sized adult killer whale can eat up to 500 pounds of food a day! This makes sense for their gargantuan size.
- Orcas are incredibly powerful and lively sea mammals, reaching speeds of up to 35 mph while swimming in the ocean.
- Female orcas give birth every 3 to 10 years and have a gestation period of 17 months. Once offspring is born, mothers are very protective. Often times, adolescent female orcas will help the mother in caring for them as well.
- Killer whales are very geographically diverse creatures and can be found in every single ocean on the planet. Depending on where in the ocean they live, killer whales can have very different behaviors, appearances, and ways of communicating.
- To get rest, orca whales engage in unihemispheric sleep, where they can only allow one half of their brain to sleep at a time. Orcas can’t turn off their entire brain, because they need to remain conscious enough to continue breathing – it doesn’t happen automatically like humans’ breathing during our sleep. While asleep, orcas only close one eye. The left eye will be closed when the right half of the brain is sleeping, and vice versa. While they sleep, orcas swim very slowly close to the surface of the ocean.
- Orca whales are incredibly social creatures and travel in what are known as pods, or family groups of up to 40 orcas. Traveling in pods makes is easier for orca whales to hunt together. For instance, a pod of orcas can cooperate together and herd fish into a singular area to make it easier for the group to eat them. For larger prey such as sea lions or penguins, a pod of orcas will slap their tails on the water and cause a wave to push prey off ice and into the water.
- To communicate and hunt with their pods, killer whales use echolocation, whereby they omit sounds underwater to identify and locate prey.
- Killer whales historically have been bred and held captive by SeaWorld to use for entertainment in live whale shows. After a combination of protests, public outcry and lawsuits, in 2016 SeaWorld made the decision to stop breeding orcas. It wasn’t until January 2017 that SeaWorld San Diego announced they would stop live orca whale performances altogether.
To get a chance to see a killer whale in Los Angeles in its natural habitat, contact Harbor Breeze for whale watching information. We look forward to taking you on a whale watching adventure the entire family will love!