Orca, also known as the Killer Whale, is the largest member of the dolphin family and is a favorite animal for whale watching groups all around the world. The Killer Whale’s strikingly marked black and white body is unmistakable, being black on the upperparts, sometimes with a light grey ‘saddle patch’ behind the dorsal fin, and white on the underparts, lower jaw and undersides of the tail. White lobes extend up the sides of the body behind the dorsal fin, and there is a white, oval patch behind each eye. In newborn Killer Whales, the white areas of the body have an orange hue.
Both the male and female Killer Whales have a broad, rounded head and snout, an enlarged forehead, large, paddle-shaped pectoral fins and a large dorsal fin. However, males grow larger than females, and on reaching maturity become stockier and develop disproportionately larger fins, with adult males easily recognized by the tall, erect dorsal fin, which is the largest of any cetacean, growing to an impressive 6 feet in height. The female Orca, by contrast, has a more backward-curving dorsal fin , which grows to about 3 feet in height. An Orca’s dorsal fin and saddle patch are unique to each individual.
A number of different forms of Killer Whale have been identified, which specialize in different types of prey, differ in appearance, behavior and habitat use, do not associate with each other and are not known to interbreed. Studies have also revealed genetic differences between the different forms, and the Orca may therefore be split into a number of different subspecies or even distinct species in the near future.
Visit the Humpback Whale and Blue Whale pages to see photos of these other great whales as well.
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