The Sea Life of Orca Whales

Orcinus Orca, also known as the Orca or Killer Whale, is a species of whale that is well-known for its black dorsal skin patterns and white patches along the side of its head and its underside. Killer whales are also infrequently called “blackfish” because of their color, but they are actually marine mammals of the Delphinidae, or dolphin family. Orcas are called killer whales because of their reputation for killing large prey, including other whales. They are also known as “wolves of the sea.” They were given this label because they hunt in packs. Like wolves, they are considered to be apex predators because no animals besides humans prey upon them.

Of the species that make up the Delphinidae family, killer whales are the largest. They are not only the largest Delphinids, but they are also some of the ocean's largest predators. They can reach a maximum known length of 32 feet and weigh as much as 22,000 pounds. Males grow to an average of 20 to 26 feet and weigh an average of 12,000 pounds. Females average 16 to 23 feet in length and around 8,000 pounds. Their diet is diverse and includes everything from fish and seals to sharks and blue whales. Orcas have been filmed attacking Great White sharks and even sperm whales. They are not, however, a threat to humans, and have occasionally been known to help humans.

Orcas are present in all seven of the world's oceans, and their conservation status is currently undefined due to a lack of information. The Southern Resident group of Orcas off the coast of Washington state is on the United States list of Endangered Species. The primary threat facing killer whales includes the loss of their habitat, pollution, lack of food, and attacks by humans. Pollution is one of the most hidden and dangerous threats facing killer whales, as the food they eat are often filled with toxins from human-made chemical waste. These toxins negatively affect their health and even their ability to reproduce. Some orcas have also been captured and put into captivity as well. One example is the Orca named Tilikum, who performs at the Seaworld Orlando theme park in Orlando, Florida. Shamu is another name given to a series of killer whales that perform at Seaworld parks in Orlando and San Diego, California.

National Geographic - Killer Whale (Orca)

Information about killer whales such as how they hunt, and what they eat. The article gives information about how they travel in pods. The page includes a list of "Fast Facts" which gives stats on the killer whale including its life span, weight, size and size compared to a bus.

NOAA Fisheries - Office of Protected Resources: Killer Whale (Orcinus Orca)

When reading this page people will learn about the status of killer whales including what two populations are under Federal protection. Readers will also get information such as a thorough description of the species, its taxonomy, habitat, population trends, and threats. Conservation efforts are also reviewed with a bulleted list of measures included in the plan.

Seattle Aquarium - Orca Whale Background Information (PDF)

A PDF document that is filled with background information on Orcas. Information included in the document are facts, descriptions, and sounds that they make. Readers can learn what Orcas do and about their health. The article discusses Orcas residents of the Seattle area.

Killer Whale Orcinus Orca

Readers will find facts about orcas, which includes their size, lifespan, population range, and habitat. Information regarding offspring of the orcas, such as their weight and length are also included. Threats to the orcas and behavior patterns are also a part of this page.

PBS - Ocean Adventures: Call of the Killer Whale

A PBS video in which Jean-Michel Cousteau investigates killer whales. The video explores the threat that killer whales face as a result of human society.

BBC Nature: Killer Whales Live on After Menopause to Protect Sons

An article on BBC Nature that explains how mother orcas lives extend so far beyond their reproductive years. It is explained to readers how and why their lifespan is connected to their sons.

Animals - Explore. Discover. Connect: Killer Whales Adaptations for an Aquatic Environment

This is a page on the SeaWorld Busch Gardens website that reviews how killer whales function in the water. Readers will learn how killer whales breathe, sleep habits, and how they regulate their body heat. Diving and swimming habits and speed are also included on this page.

Killer Controversy: Why Orcas Should No Longer be Kept in Captivity

This PDF document discusses the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity. It discusses the dangers to both the animals and to the trainers who care for them. The report reviews concerns, such as high mortality rates of captive orcas, increased risk of infection, high mortality rates of infants, stress and increased aggression toward one another and humans. The document cites four human deaths since the first orca kept in captivity in 1964. These deaths are in comparison to zero deaths and only minor, non-intentional injury caused by orcas in the wild.

Animal Diversity Web - University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Orca

This page covers numerous facts about orcas, from geographic range to predation. It also includes information about the role of orcas to the ecosystem.

The Whale Museum: Issues Affecting the Southern Resident Orcas

Issues that affect orcas, such as increased boating activity, underwater noise, and decline fish populations are each reviewed. Another issue that affects orcas as the top of the food chain is their exposure to toxic substances.

Center for Whale Research - Status: Endangered (Canada and United States)

Visitors to this page have the option to click on any of the three tabs for information that will help them better understand orcas. The tabs are: "Orca Facts," "Questions and Answers," and "Orca Behaviors."

Wild Whales - Killer Whales

On this page readers will be able to both read, watch, and hear information about killer whales. In the identification section of the page, readers can read about identifying features, including behavior. There is also a small video that shows some of their behavior that readers can watch. Other sections on the page includes information on resident killer whales and offshore killer whales. There are several sound files that can be clicked to hear the calls of the different orcas

Arkive: Orca Fact File

Readers will learn about orca biology and related species on this page. When reading about habitat, readers may click on a link to view images of other species that are found in similar habitats to killer whales. Threats and conservation are also a part of the page.

Convention on Migratory Species Orcinus Orca Linnaeus, 1758

This is a lengthy page filled with information about killer whales. There are approximately six sections of information for readers.These sections start with "Description," and ends with "Threats." In the section for threats readers will discover that the greatest threats come from pollution, overfishing and degradation of the habitat.

Orca Research Trust

The Orca Research Trust is an organization that is focused on the conservation and research of killer whales. It is based in New Zealand. When viewing the website readers can learn more about the Trust, learn about their research, and view their resources, such as activity sheets for children, an identification guide, and information about captivity.

Mammal-Eating Killer Whale Diving Behavior

A page that discusses the study of diving behavior of transient killer whales, also known as mammal-eating. This is compared to the diving behavior of resident, or fish-eating killer whales. Images are included on the page as are graphs of data that has been collected for the purpose of the study.

North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium - What's in a Whistle?

This article is about the research that scientists have done regarding communications between transient killer whales. Readers can learn about how killer whales talk to each other and how they use echolocation to navigate in the water as well as to spot prey. The study also explains the potential uses of killer whale whistles and other methods of communications. It also discusses how other animals have adapted to sense killer whale communications to avoid becoming victims of the Orcas.

National Parks Conservation Association

This web page is a fact sheet that explains what a killer whale is, various statistics, and its conservation status. Visitors can find tidbits of information about what threats face killer whales, and the nature of killer whale social groups. The page also gives brief information about their hunting tactics and what kind of animals they eat. Finally it includes a list of national parks where killer whales may be found.

Whalewatcher Killer Whale: The Top, Top Predator (PDF)

This booklet is the result of a long series of observations and studies done on killer whales by a variety of researchers. The document focuses primarily on the different groups, evolution and behavior patterns of Orcas. Reproductive patterns, feeding patterns, and family life are covered, along with various different pods and the differences between transient and resident killer whales. The booklet also explains how being an apex predator makes the Orcas more vulnerable to contact with human beings than other animals, such as when oil spills occur near their habitats. It impresses upon the reader that scientists do not know how many of these animals actually exist, and cannot tell if they are plentiful or rapidly diminishing toward extinction. Ultimately, it explains how conservation efforts have helped save known populations of Orcas.

Mammals of Texas: Killer Whale

Mammals of Texas: Killer Whale is a brief web page that lists a few key facts. It offers a description of killer whales to help readers recognize them, as well as an idea of the number of Orcas around the coast of Texas. Some information is given about their social behavior and their hunting tactics, as well as their diet and reproductive patterns.