Killer whale facts!
We get the lowdown on these magnificent marine mammals…
Take a deep breath, gang – because we’re diving to the depths of the ocean with some cool killer whale facts!
Fast killer whale facts
Scientific name: Orcinus orca
Family name: Delphinidae
IUCN status: Data deficient
Lifespan (in wild): 50-90 years
Weight: Males up to 9,000kg. Females up to 5,500kg
Head and body length: Males up to 9.8m. Females up to 8.5m
Top speed: 55km/h
Eight tonnes of pure power whacks an ice floe floating in cold Arctic waters. The seal lying on top of the ice doesn’t stand a chance. Knocked into the sea, the seal becomes a meal for one of the ocean’s top predators – the huge killer whale!
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Killer whales, also called orcas, hunt everything from fish to walruses – seals, sea lions, penguins, squid, sea turtles, sharks and even other kinds of whales are all on their menu. Depending on the season and where they are, their diet varies – some eat plenty of fish and squid, others feast mostly on seals and penguins. But wherever they are in any of the world’s oceans, average-sized killer whales may eat about 227 kilograms of food a day!
These mega marine mammals have many hunting techniques, and bumping seals off ice is just one of them. Often referred to as ‘wolves of the sea’, killer whales live and hunt together in ‘pods’, or family groups, much like a pack of wolves.
Working together as they hunt, groups of killer whales cooperate to herd fish into a compact area so that they’re easier to gobble up. They will also slap their tails onto the water’s surface, causing a wave to wash prey (such as penguins or sea lions) off ice floes and into the water.
Sometimes, a pod of whales will join forces to surround a larger animal, such as a blue whale. They chase, bite and wear it down until it becomes weak enough for them to feast on.
Killer whales have around 45 teeth (each around 7.6 centimeters long), which are shaped for ripping and tearing prey. Instead of chewing their food, they take one big gulp – and believe it or not, these brilliant beasts can swallow small seals and sea lions whole! Bigger prey is ripped into chunks before being eaten.
Scientists believe the colour pattern of killer whales may help them sneak up on and attack their prey. Their backs are black, and their stomachs are white. Animals looking down on this powerful predator from above, such as a seal on an ice floe, might not see it because the whale’s dark back blends with the water below.
On the other hand, the killer whale’s white underside blends with the light streaming down into the sea from the surface, making it hard to spot from below. Such cool camouflage means prey like fish, penguins and seals are likely to miss the danger heading their way. Crafty, eh?!