Incredible facts about the orcas in our oceans


Ever wonder why orcas are called “killer whales?” Or what orcas eat? Here are some fun facts all about orcas.

Orcas are marine mammals who belong to the dolphin family (Delphinidae). They are the largest species of dolphins and are recognisable by their black-and-white coloration and white patches near each of their eyes.  

Why are orcas also called “killer whales?” 

It’s believed that when European fisherman and sailors encountered orcas hundreds of years ago, they witnessed orcas hunting whales. As a result, they named the species “whale killers.” When the name was translated into English, it became “killer whales.” Although known to hunt a variety of species, there have been no documented cases of orcas killing humans in the wild.   

Do orcas live in groups?  

Yes, orcas live in close-knit groups called “pods.” Orcas live in a matriarchal society, where older females pass down knowledge and specific behaviours to the younger members of their family.   

An orca swimming in the wild

What do orcas eat?  

Orcas are the ocean’s apex predators, which means they have no natural predators. Depending on where they live, orcas can eat fish, stingrays, sharks, whales, seals, penguins, and much more. Orcas have even been know to hunt great white sharks

Are orcas endangered? 

According to the IUCN, orcas are currently listed as “Data Deficient,” which means their conservation status is unknown. However, the Southern Resident Orcas (a population of orcas who live off the US Pacific coastline) are considered endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This is largely attributed to the decline of Chinook salmon in their habitat – which makes up 80% of their diet.   

What was Blackfish about?  

Blackfish, the documentary, told the story of Tilikum, a captive orca who killed several of his trainers. The film also explained the controversies behind keeping orcas in captivity. Because of the film, SeaWorld announced it would end its orca-breeding program.  


Where can I see orcas in the wild?  

Orcas are the most widely distributed mammals, living in every ocean around the world. Orca can be found all throughout Aotearoa New Zealand's coastline. The months between October and March, are your best chances of seeing orca in waters of Malborough Sounds and Kaikōura. With pods of orca also known to venture into Wellington Harbour during the warmer months. 

Orcas are one of the most widely distributed mammals, living in every ocean around the world.

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