Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Off all the places I wish to visit, large portions are simply areas where unique animals have chosen to make their home. With my mother operating her own dog training business, I have learned to love almost all animals as part of the family. And while the animal I am about to describe may not be the most rare I think it holds a place in almost everyone’s inner child’s heart. They are the prize of Sea Worlds across the United States and known by some as only “Shamu”. I speak of the killer whale.

Officially known as the Orca, or less commonly the Blackfish, this beauty of a beast is NOT A WHALE! It is actually the largest member of the dolphin family. They have been labeled as ‘killer whales’ because they have been known to hunt other whale species for food.

Created in five distinct types, orcas are highly social, forming family groups which constitute some of the most stable in the world. Pods usually consist of 5-30 whales, although some pods may combine to form groups of 100 or more. All pods are lead by females and each pod is thought to have its own form of dialect resulting in different languages from group to group.

All orcas have the distinguished black back, white chest and sides, and white patches above and behind the eye. Though newborns come out the womb with yellow/orange tint that eventually fades to white. While males range from 19-26 feet long and weigh in excess of 6 tons, females are smaller ranging 16-23 feet in length and 3-4 tons in weight. Unlike most dolphins, the killer whale’s pectoral fin is large and rounded with the male’s being twice as high and as well as narrower than the female’s.

Together, these characteristics make it one of the fastest marine mammals often reaching speeds in excess of 40 mph! Coupled with their need to travel sometimes 100 miles a day, the orca can stir up quite an appetite.

An apex predator, killer whales are known as the wolves of the sea for the reason of hunting in packs. On average, each whale eats 500 pounds of food each day. They have a wide diet and are known to consume sharks, squid, sea lions, seals, walruses, seagulls (?), penguins, and other fish.

?- A captive killer whale in Friendship Cove discovered that it could regurgitate fish onto the surface, attracting sea gulls, and then eat them. Other whales then learned the behavior by example.
Females bare a single calf every five years beginning at the age of fifteen. The sex lives an average of 50 years, with males only living 30, and those in captivity barely making it to their mid-twenties.

Like dolphins, orcas use echolocation (bouncing sound off of objects to determine their location) to hunt, and use a series of high-pitched clicks to stun prey. They are found most commonly in the Pacific Basin (where Canada curves into Alaska) as well off the coasts of Iceland and northern Norway.

In 2007, orcas were put on the U.S. Endangered Species List.

Killer Whales in National Parks

• Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
• Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
• Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska
• Olympic National Park, Washington

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