Adult female up to approximately 8m; weighs up to 7,500 kg; dorsal fin up to 1m
Adult male up to approximately 10m; weighs up to 10,000 kg; dorsal fin up to 2m
Newborn calf up to 2.5m; weighs up to 200 kg
Killer whales produce three types of vocalizations: echolocation clicks are used for orientation and to find prey, whistles appear to function in short-range communication, and pulsed calls are highly stereotyped and likely function in long range communication. Repertoires of pulsed calls differ between social groups and populations.
Orcas are distinctively coloured. The dorsal surface is mostly black except for a grey or white saddle patch behind the dorsal fin. The underside of the body and underside of flukes are white and there is a white eyespot behind each eye.
Killer whales are one of the fastest marine mammals in the sea. The record holder is a male timed at 55.5 km/h (34.5 mph). During short bursts they have been recorded to travel at 45 km/h. However, their typical traveling speed is 6-8 km/h.
Diet: Fish, especially salmon with a focus on chinook and chum
Dorsal fin: Rounded tip usually with sharper angle at the rear corner
Saddle patch: Open saddle patch often seen, meaning that the all grey/white saddle patch is broken up with black
Social structure: Live in a matriarchal society: male and female offspring remain with their mother as long as she is alive
Average group size: 10-25 whales
Sounds: Very vocal. Each pod uses a different dialect. However, pods can share some calls and communicate with one another
Typical dive times: 3 – 5 minutes
Distribution: All along the western coast of North America from Southeast Alaska to California
Diet: Seals, sea lions, porpoises, juvenile whales and other marine mammals
Dorsal fin: Fin tip is generally pointed. Dorsal fin will often have nicks in it or large scars
Saddle patch: Saddle patch large and uniformly grey/white
Social structure: Much looser than the resident form. Offspring will often leave a matriline with their own offspring. Adult males have also been observed to separate from their matriline. However, broken up matrilines will often meet together, or matrilines/individuals will travel with other matrlines/individuals.
Average group size: 4-6 whales
Sounds: Are stealth hunters that echolocate rarely, presumably use passive listening to find their prey. Tend to vocalize during or directly following a kill
Typical dive times: 7 – 10 minutes
Distribution: All along the western coast of North America from Southeast Alaska to California.
West Coast Transient – Threatened
See: Species At Risk Public Registry;
AT1 Transient – Depleted (US Marine Mammal Protection Act)
Diet: Not certain: scientists believe they feed on sharks and other fish species
Dorsal fin: Rounded over tip, usually lacks the sharper angle at the rear corner
Saddle patch: Either solid grey/white or open
Social structure: Unknown but usually encountered in large groups
Average group size: 20-30+ whales
Sounds: Distinct calls from transients and residents. Frequently vocal, use lots of echolocation
Typical dive times: Unknown
Distribution: Far from coastline along continental shelf. They have been encountered near Queen Charlottes, the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and have been seen as far south as Los Angeles. Estimated range is from Southern California to the Aleutian Islands