Orca whales (or killer whales as they are sometimes called) are not really whales at all but are the largest member of the dolphin family. These highly intelligent mammals roam the oceans of the world except for the warm waters of the tropics, and they live in family groups called pods. The family structure of these pods revolves around the oldest female member making them one of the few large mammals that live in a matriarchal society.
Except for human beings, Orca whales are the top predators of the sea. They developed their nickname “Killer w Whale” by the way they hunt large whales. There are many similarities between a pack of wolves hunting and a pod of Orcas doing the same. These whales have been known to attack and kill blue whales, the largest animal that roams our oceans. Killer whales are organized hunters, chasing their prey with relentless pursuit, wearing it down, driving it to exhaustion before starting to rip hunks of flesh from its body. There is an amazing and somewhat disturbing series of photographic published in National Geographic of these whales attacking a blue whale off the coast of Baja, Mexico.
Male Orca whales become sexual mature at fifteen years of age and females become sexually mature around twelve years of age. After mating the gestation period is seventeen months. Baby whales are born tail first, eyes open and ready to take their first breath, often with a little help from their mother. The average baby at birth is approximately eight feet long and weighs close to four hundred pounds. It is estimated that a fully grown male Orca whale needs to consume over a hundred pounds of food daily to survive and can weigh over twelve thousand pounds.
Experts can identify Orca whales by their dorsal fin and also by their distinct saddle patch. The dorsal fin on a breeding age male can be six feet tall. Female dorsal fins are smaller and more rounded or swept back. The saddle patch is a small area of gray at the base of their dorsal fin. Another tool used in identifying individual whales is the many different nicks, scars, and other irregularities found on their fin. In the wild Orca whales enjoy a very long life. The male’s life span is estimated to be between thirty and sixty years of age and the female fifty to eighty. One interesting note is that in the Pacific Northwest of Washington state (which is the best place on the planet to see Orca whales in their natural environment) the oldest living female named “Granny” just turned one hundred years old this year. Unfortunately Orca whales have a much shorter life span in captivity.
Rather or not these beautiful animals should be labeled with the name “killer” is up for debate, but science agrees that there has never been one known case of an Orca whale (except in captivity) attacking or in any manner hunting, harassing or killing a human being.
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