Orcas (Killer Whales)

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are toothed whales and are the largest member of the Dolphin family. These large marine mammals are recognized by millions due to their distinctive characteristics such as their black-and-white coloration, large dorsal fin, and sleek, streamlined body. Have you ever been on a yacht exploring the oceans? Well, then you most likely encountered orcas, since orcas live in all latitudes, in every ocean. Did you know orcas migrate and are often found from the Arctic Oceans to Antarctica? Since orcas are found in all oceans, they are one of the ocean’s most iconic symbols. In fact, many aquariums use orcas some for entrainment, others rescue and provide shelter.

Why are orcas called “killer whales” when they are dolphins?

If you haven't noticed by their shape, they resemble dolphins. As stated above, orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family. Since whales and dolphins are closely related, they share similar characteristics such as streamlined bodies and rounded heads. According to Oceana.org, "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’. Their Latin name, Orcinus orca, also reflects this observation of orcas feeding on large whales. Orcinus translates to ‘of the kingdom of the dead,’ and orca refers to a kind of whale. We know that orcas are top predators, yes, but not the vicious ‘whale killers’ that the ancient mariners thought them to be.

Despite their appearance and their name, it is safe to swim or dive with orcas. However, you have to be very cautious, because sometimes even the prettiest creature of the sea can be deadly. You should never forget that orcas were known as killer whales to ancient sailors. Although they are often playful or would mind their own business, they are still wild animals and you should never let your guard down. Just keep in mind that in self-defense, killer whales will attack and kill sharks and or other animals, even the largest whales, for food.

What do Orcas, eat?

As most of you know, orcas are apex predators and often consume meat. They are toothed whales with 40-56 teeth that can rip meat with ease. Seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, sharks, large whales, cephalopods (octopus and squids), seabirds, and more are all part of their diet. However, since orcas appear in every ocean, their diet often varies from other orcas in different locations. Orcas hunt for specific prey depending on their location.


Like most marine creatures, orcas often travel long distances and similar to sea turtles or sea otters they do not travel alone. Orcas have special groups called pods, containing up to 40 individual members. There are two different types of pods. A resident pod tends to be less aggressive and often teaching their young how to catch and hunt fish for food. While transient pods relate more to the behavior of wolf packs. They often act individually and are much more aggressive since they don't others to support them.






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