An orca is a marine mammal. They are often confused for being a whale because of their name ‘killer whale’, but did you know that orcas are actually dolphins? In fact, they are the largest member of the dolphin family!
Orcas are incredibly popular as they are the most widely distributed of all whales and dolphins, found in every single ocean! They are very familiar with their black and white colouring but actually, depending on where they live, have very different appearances, behaviour, ways of communicating and diet!
Orcas are highly intelligent, highly adaptable and able to communicate and coordinate hunting tactics. They are extremely fast swimmers and have been recorded at speeds of up to 54kph! A wild orca pod can cover over 160 kilometres a day, foraging and socialising.
Dolphins and whales are closely related. Orcas were given the name ‘killer whale’ by ancient sailors’ observations of groups of orcas hunting and preying on larger whale species. They called orcas asesina ballenas, or ‘whale killer’ – a term that was eventually flipped around to the easier ‘killer whale’. Looking at all populations, orcas are generalist eaters, consuming fish, seals and sea lions, dolphins and porpoises, sharks and rays, large whales, cephalopods (octopods and squids), seabirds and more. However, some orcas specialise on specific prey, and it turns out orcas are picky eaters! Once they’ve learned what their family eats, they aren’t likely to switch diets.
Orcas worldwide face a number of threats. They get caught in fishing nets and gear accidentally, face problems with toxic waste and pollution in the sea. Increase in boat traffic can result in collisions with orcas and an increase in underwater noise pollution.
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