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When is a "Killer Whale" not a whale?
Always! A Killer Whale (Scientific name: Orcinus orca) is not a whale at all. It is the largest member of the dolphin family. They are called killer whales because they kill whales, hunting them in packs like wolves.
Although they are found in every ocean from the North Pole to the South Pole, orcas are most common in the Arctic and Antarctic and are often spotted off the west coast of the United States and Canada.
The killer whale is easy to identify by its striking coloration: jet-black on top with a white patch behind each eye and a white belly.
Orcas are very social animals that travel in groups of 5 to 30 orcas, called pods. They have established social hierarchies which are lead by females. They also have a complex form of communication with dialects that vary from one pod to another.
Like other dolphins, orcas use echolocation (sonar)—bouncing sound off of objects to determine their location—to hunt, and use a series of high-pitched clicks to stun prey. Fish, squids, seals, sea lions, walruses, birds, sea turtles, otters, penguins, whales, polar bears, reptiles, and even a moose have all been found in the stomach contents of orcas.
Orca will intentionally beach themselves to scare seals or penguins into the water where other killer whales are waiting to feed.
Size: Although small compared to some whales, killer whales are the largest predators of mammals ever known.
Life Span: Male orcas have a life expectancy of 50-60 years. Females have a life expectancy of up to 90 years.
Orcas are not in threat of extinction. Their only enemies are human beings.
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