Though some may think large sharks are the most fearsome animals in the ocean, even predators such as the great white exist below one animal on the food chain; the killer whale (Orcinus orca). Also known as orcas, killer whales are the largest of all dolphins and are true apex predators, even hunting great white sharks on occasion.
At up to 32 feet long and weighing 15,000lbs, the largest killer whales can equal a city bus in size. If their size isn’t enough of an indicator, orcas can be easily recognized by their black coloring with characteristic white patches above their eyes and on their bellies as well as massive six foot dorsal fins.
There are a variety of different types of orcas living in every ocean in the world, though there are slight differences in appearance, feeding and social habits depending upon habitat. Some are residents of the same area year-round and form strong family bonds, whereas other types are transient and move from place to place. Most live and travel in groups of anywhere from 2 to 75 depending on type.
As apex predators, killer whales hunt an enormous variety of sea life. Resident killer whales usually prey upon fish and squid, whereas transient orcas eat other marine mammals such as seals, porpoises and other whales almost exclusively. Killer whales may also prey upon large sharks, using their superior intelligence to hold sharks upside down and suffocate them. Much like wolves, killer whales hunt large prey such as other whales in packs. Interestingly enough, resident killer whales may swim or play with dolphins and porpoises, both prey animals to transient orcas.
Despite their name, wild killer whales have never been responsible for a fatal attack on a human. Their intelligence along with their playful nature seems to suggest that it is easy for orcas to differentiate between humans and their natural prey. However, there have been several attacks by captive killer whales, leading many to condemn the practice of keeping these animals in aquariums. Most killer whales can live well into their thirties in the wild, with some females reaching 90 years of age.
KILLER WHALE FACTS
Female killer whales give birth after a 17 month pregnancy
Killer whales often raise their bodies vertically out of the water to better see their surroundings. This behavior is called skyhopping.