Killer Whales: Underwater Predators in Black and White
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Killer Whales: Underwater Predators in Black and White

Killer whales, also known as orcas, are the largest among dolphins on the planet.

Killer whales or orcas, scientifically known as Orcinus orca, is indubitably the largest of dolphins, such that they can reach up to 32 feet in body length and weigh as much as 6 tons. Killer whales could be found in all the major oceans around the planet, though their preference toward freezing coastal waters is undeniable as well.

killer whales or orcas

The killer whale

One of the killer whale’s defining trait as among the most formidable predators in the world is its teeth, each of which is approximately 3 inches long. Conical and interlocking in nature, the total number of its teeth ranges from 40 to 56, appropriate for catching a variety of prey such as seals, squids and even young whales. Normally, killer whales hunt in groups called pods comprising of at most forty individuals. Said killer whale hunting pods are classified into two main categories based on its hunting behavior: resident and transient. Resident killer whale hunting pods prey mainly on fish, such as salmon, halibut, greenling; whereas their transient counterparts hunt mainly for marine animals, such as seals, sea lions and porpoises.

killer whale hunting pod

A pod of killer whales

As dolphins, killer whales are able to communicate with each other in a pod as well as hunt for prey by emitting sound waves of a particular frequency underwater, which, upon encountering an object in the distance, bounce back to the killer whale in question so as to determine the location and nature of said object. This process is known as echolocation, employed as well by bats for similar reasons. Sonars are also an example of echolocation, a method of discerning underwater objects via the same process as demonstrated by killer whales.

Instead of gills, killer whales, being mammals, breathe through a blowhole found on top of its skull to supply oxygen to their lungs. They are observed to exhale through said blowhole before breaking the surface of the water, in the process sending the distance of water between blowhole and the surface of water into the air, thus explaining the spout of water normally seen delivered high into the air from their blowholes.

To accommodate their diving needs, the killer whale’s heart is adapted to beat at a much slower rate, thus lowering the amount of oxygen needed to pull off a dive, not to mention the fact that during a dive, its blood is observed to be diverted to particular regions of the killer whale’s body such as the heart, lungs and brain where oxygen is most needed from where it is not needed as much. Also, a typical killer whale is capable of holding its breath longer and inhaling a larger measure of air than the average human being.

Generally, male killer whales are much larger than their female counterparts. The killer whale’s dorsal fin is also known to be a distinguishing trait in appearance between male and female killer whales, such that male killer whales sport a longer, more upright dorsal fin than that of the opposite sex. Killer whales are also found to be extremely protective parents, and at times, adolescent female killer whales could be seen babysitting the young.

References:

1. http://www.seaworld.org/animal-info/info-books/killer-whale/adaptations.htm

2. http://www.whale-images.com/info/killer-whale-facts.htm

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Comments (1)

beautiful article! I really love these splendid beast of the sea. 6 tonnes is quite heavy!

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