10 Facts about Killer Whales

Welcome to 10 Facts, the place where we give you 10 facts about a topic.

This week’s facts are all about Killer Whales.

1. The Killer name

The term Killer Whale is believed to come from or as a mistranslation from (Basque) whalers who called them ‘Whale Killers’ after observing them killing whales. It seems like a perfectly reasonable way to name something, it describes perfectly what they were doing.

Other names for Killer Whales are of course Orca, which is becoming increasingly popular to move away from the whole killer thing, Blackfish and Grampus.

2. A type of dolphin

The Killer Whale is a type of dolphin belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, Delphinidae, which is the same family as the Bottlenose Dolphin. I wonder who is more embarrassed by that relationship? Is the Killer Whale the black sheep of the family?

3. All the world’s oceans

Killer Whales are found in all of the world’s oceans which mean no whale is safe. It’s good though if you want to go Killer Whale spotting, just go to your nearest ocean.

4. Apex predators

Killer Whales are apex predators, they are top of the food chain with nothing to fear, except for man who uses technology to ignore nature.

Even the Great White Shark is below the Killer Whale in the food chain. In areas where the two species overlap Killer Whales can induce what is known as Tonic immobility by holding the sharks upside down in their mouths until they suffocate.

5. Life expectancy

The oldest Killer Whale is a female called Granny (J2) believed to be an estimated 103 years old. The average life expectancy for a female is 50 years with a maximum of 90 years while for males it is 29 years with a maximum of 60 years. Plenty of time for a midlife crisis.

This is in stark contrast to Killer Whales who are kept in captivity where they only live into their 20’s.

6. Size

Male Killer Whales range from 7 to 9 metres or 23 to 30 feet while female Killer Whales are slightly smaller ranging from 6 to 8 metres or 20 to 26 feet.

The largest Killer Whale is a male measuring 10 metres or 32.2 feet, that is about the length of a London bus (9.5 metres or 31.2 feet).

7. Speed

Killer Whales are one of the fastest marine mammals, they are able to reach speeds in excess of 56 km/h (30 kn). No chance to of out swimming them then.

8. What do you call a group of Killer Whales?

A group of Killer Whales is called a pod. Not the greatest or coolest group name ever, probably by the same marketing company that called them “killer”.

9. Different sub-species

There could as many as five different races, subspecies or even species of Killer Whale because of science basically. Some are mainly coastal, some have a marine only diet, some live in larger/smaller groups etc.

There has not been enough research done yet to fully explore this yet which is actually kind of exciting. We still have plenty to learn and for all we know there could be more kinds of Orcas.

10.  Culture

Culture? Killer Whales? You are probably thinking did I read that right. Yes you did. Killer Whales have culture. Hunting techniques and vocalisations are passed through the generations, parents have been observed teaching children how to beach. Soon they’ll be writing to pass down these techniques.

Different pods also have different dialects and vocal sounds which further complicates the whole different races, subspecies, species issue.

Important note

There have never been any fatal attacks by Killer Whales on humans in the wild. In fact of the very very very few cases where there have been attacks on humans in the wild, they are all believed to have been as a result of misidentification.

In captivity where they are forced to do tricks, well that’s a different matter, there have been quite a few fatal attacks there. They are intelligent and social animals, they shouldn’t be made to perform circus tricks.

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