The Orca (Orcinus orca) is often misunderstood and feared. You may be surprised to learn that the Orca, also known as the Killer Whale, is not a whale, but in fact belongs to the dolphin family. It is the largest species of dolphin: males grow up to 9.8 m (~32 ft) and weigh up to 9,000 kg (~20,000 lbs), while females measure up to 8.5 m (~28 ft) and weigh up to 5,500 kg (~12,125 lbs). Most dolphin species measure around 2 m (~6.5 ft) and weigh less than 200 kg (~441 lbs). Its large size and striking black and white coloration make the Orca easy to identify. Males also have the largest dorsal fin of all cetaceans, which can grow to 1.8 m (~5.9 ft).
Due to its large size, the Orca eats an impressive 45 kg (~99 lbs) of food a day, from fish and squid to larger mammals such as seals and sea lions and even other cetaceans. They have been nicknamed the “wolves of the sea” because they hunt in packs like wolves, herding prey into a small area before they go in for the kill. Sailors who saw them attack large prey gave them the common name of “Killer Whale”. While many fear this dolphin, the largest predator known to man, there has in fact never been an attack by a wild Orca on a human.
Another surprising fact about Killer Whales is that they are incredibly social and live their entire lives in one pod that is typically made up of 40 to 50 individuals. The pod has a well-defined structure and is usually female-dominant. Members of a pod will communicate with each other through a number of sounds (clicks, whistles and screams; these are unique to each pod) as well as a number of physical behaviors such as breaching and slapping their flippers. The bond between the members of a pod is strong; they not only hunt together and share prey but also take care of each other.