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Whales: Orcas

© written by Tasha Guenther

Orca breach

Photographer, Christopher Michel; saturated and used with permission under CC BY 2.0

The Orca or Orcinus orca - or more commonly known (especially during the 20th and early 21st centuries) "Killer Whale" - is an odontocete part of the oceanic dolphin family. Since the orca is technically a part of the dolphin family, we should refrain from calling this beautiful creature a killer whale!

Orca side breach

Photographer, Christopher Michel; saturated and used with permission under CC BY 2.0

The orca is clearly the largest member existing within the dolphin family; males are approximately 7 meters long and weigh up to 20,000 pounds (big guys!); females are usually 6 and a half meters long and weigh up to 12,000 pounds!

As is famously known, orcas are black with white spots, usually around their eyes and belly. This makes them look very cute, especially when they hop out of the water in groups.

Speaking of this, orcas are extremely social animals. The groups they travel and hunt in are called pods. These pods are usually made up of smaller numbers (5-10) but can have a population anywhere up to 30! Interestingly, these pods are matriarchal: the female orcas are the leaders.

Another interesting fact about these pods is that apparently (as has been studied), every pod has a slightly different language - we can think of it like the way in which people use slang or have different dialects (things like accents).

Orca side breach

Photographer, Christopher Michel; saturated and used with permission under CC BY 2.0

Unfortunately, many of these beautiful creatures (orcas and dolphins included) are kept in captivity! Though they look happy and do their job in these places, it is (obviously) apparent that they belong in the wild ocean. If we think of how they enjoy travelling in pods so much - as it is essential to their being - how does it make sense that they would enjoy being trapped in a small pool with little communication with others?