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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, North American Mammals

  Cetacea · Delphinidae · Orcinus orca

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Orcinus orca

Killer Whale

Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae

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Image of Orcinus orca
Orcinus orca - male, right; female and calf, left
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Conservation Status: Data Deficient.

Killer whales live in all the oceans between the Arctic and Antarctic ice packs. Given this enormous range and their predatory lifestyle, it is not surprising that they are adaptable, with excellent memory, intelligence, and a capacity for social complexity. They tend to live in pods of fewer than 10 animals, built around a stable core of 2-3 generations of related females - mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. This is shown by genetic studies of pods living in the same area. Adult females without calves, and adult males, may help care for and train younger whales to hunt, especially when a reproducing female is rearing more than one offspring. Cooperation extends to hunting, and these animals are known to attack and drown larger whales by swarming them from all sides. Orcas may even beach themselves temporarily to snatch seals, or knock them off ice floes by ramming the ice. Their prey includes larger marine mammals, fish, birds, and cephalopods.

Also known as:


Sexual Dimorphism:

Males are larger than females in body size, flipper size, and dorsal fin height.


Range: up to 9 m males; up to 7.7 m females


Average: 5,568 kg males; 3,810 kg females


Linnaeus, C., 1758.  Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classis, ordines, genera, species cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tenth Edition, Laurentii Salvii, Stockholm, 1:77, 824 pp.


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Distribution of Orcinus orca

Image of Orcinus orca
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Skull of Orcinus orca
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