Orca/Killer whale

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Orcinus orca

Orcas (also known as killer whales) are the largest members of the dolphin family. They are also referred to as killer whales because they kill and eat whales, as well as other types of prey (including other dolphins, seals, penguins and other birds, turtles, rays, sharks and other fish). Their preferred diet depends on the type of social group (resident or transient) and location. Orcas are highly intelligent animals that have adapted to specialised and cooperative hunting techniques to capture various species including sharks, seals, dolphins, and whales much larger then themselves. Orcas have been recorded swimming at speeds of up to 54 km/hr, making them among the fastest of all cetaceans. The orca is the most widely distributed of the cetaceans, being found around the globe from pole to pole. They are typically found in very social family groups that have unique dialects specific to their area.

Orcas can attack young sperm whales, but this is not often observed in the Azores as they pass by the islands only occasionally. We recorded orcas hunting and killing a fin whale in 2007, and on our orca sightings in 2012 and 2013 we saw males taking loggerhead turtles.

Length:

  • Male: 9.8 m

  • Female: 8.5 m

  • Calf: 2.1 – 2.6 m

Weight:

  • Male: 10,000 kg

  • Calf: 200 kg

Global population: c.50,000 (population trend unknown)
Status: Data Deficient
Diet: Fish (including sharks), cephalopods, marine mammals, turtles, seabirds
Teeth: 40 – 52

Longevity:

Male: 50 years

Female: 90+ years

Breeding age: 10 – 18 years
Gestation: 11 – 16 months
Nursing: 12 months

In other languages

Portuguese: Orca, baleia-assassino
Spanish: Orca
French: Orque Épaulard
Italian: Orca
German: Orca, Schwertzwal
Dutch: Orka, zwaardwalvis
Swedish: Orca, späckhuggare
Norwegian: Spekkhogger
Danish: Spækhugger
Finnish: Miekkavalas
Polish: Orka
Russian: Kasatka