Killer whales better known as orcas are the largest dolphins and one of the most feared and robust predators. They are popular all around the world, primarily due to the fame they received from being in shows at places, such as Sea World. Orcas feed on a variety of marine mammals bolstered by their ability to take down large mammals such as sea lions, and even other whales. Orcas supplement their diet by eating fish, squid, and seabirds. Killer whales deploy large teeth that grow up to 4-inches long.
Hunting and Communication
Orcas are known to prefer cold coastal waters but do swim close to the Equator. Orcas hunt in pods consisting of family groups comprising of as many as 40 individuals. Evidence suggests the existence of both resident and transient pod population of killer whales. Each unit exhibits a different approach to hunting as well as prey on various animals. Resident pods prey on fish whereas transient pods kill marine mammals. The pods use efficient and coordinated hunting techniques likened to that of wolf packs. Orcas make a range of communicative sounds, and each pod has a unique set of noises members use to recognize each other. These whales deploy echolocation that aids in communication and hunting. The sound orcas produce travels underwater and upon encountering an object bounces back affirming their location, size, and shape.
Reproduction and Conservation
Like all mammals, orcas are incredibly vigilant of their young, and adolescent females help out the mothers in caring for young ones. Female orcas have a 17-month gestation period and give birth every 3 to 10 years. Killer whales are apparent by their unique black and white colouring. These mammals display high levels of intelligence as evidenced by their ability to be trained for aquarium shows. Strangely, orcas aren’t a favourite among whale hunters.
According to a study by Sea World, orcas are the most extensively dispersed mammals, other than humans, and are found in seas and oceans close to the majority of coastal countries. Killer whales adapt to a broad variety of climatic zones, for example, they can live in warm waters in the equatorial region or the icy waters of the North and South Pole regions. Nevertheless, orcas are more likely to be found near the shores of higher latitude areas. Also, they are known to travel great distances as documented by one research that observed a group of orcas travel over 2,000 kilometres.
Orca populations are currently unknown thereby making it difficult to label the animal’s conservation status. However, some orca populations are protected. Orcas are killed for a variety of reasons; some hunters kill them for food whereas others kill them to safeguard fish populations. Ocean and sea contamination also present a menace to killer whales.
Upon the birth of an orca, their dorsal fin tends to be very malleable but hardens as the calf grows old. Orcas are black and white, and this adaptation helps them camouflage by disguising their outline in the water.