Killer Whale Fact Sheet

Common Name:

Orca (Killer Whale)

Scientific Name:

Orcinus Orca

Wild Status:

Data Deficient


Sunlight zone of the Ocean


All Oceans



Life Span:

50 to 80 years


23 to 32 feet

Cool Facts:

  • Though orcas are commonly named 'killer whales' and are morphologically closer to the pygmy killer whale, the false killer whale, and the pilot whale...their closest relative is actually the snub-fin dolphin.
  • The killer whale is technically a dolphin, dolphins are toothed whales rather than having baleen.
  • These animals can grow to be almost as large as a school bus.
  • A group of orcas is called a pod. These pods can be up to 40 individuals.
  • When hunting, pods of orcas work cooperatively, sometimes taking down large prey such as other whales or even great white sharks. The behavior of orca pods can be likened to the hunting behaviors of a wolf pack.
  • Killer Whales have evolved to swim up to 40 miles per day, diving 100-500 feet several times each day. This is both for finding food and for exorcise.
  • This species is 1 of the 35 oceanic dolphins species which appeared about 11 million years ago.
  • From what scientists know about orcas, there are 3-5 different types. This could be considered races or subspecies of orca. It is likely that scientists will re-group the orca's classifications and split the one species into several within the next few years. There is much work still to be done on the complex and beautiful lives of the orca...maybe you can make your mark by becoming a marine biologist and studying these animals!


The orca whale is a toothed whale, also known as the killer whale. These animals are apex predators. This means that they are at the top of the food chain. Orcas are incredibly social animals, living in pods for their entire lives. They hunt using cooperative behaviors to gang up on their prey, allowing them to capture prey they would not be able to eat on their own. This food can range from schools of small fish to other apex predators such as whales and even sharks like the great white. With the 2nd largest brain of all marine mammals, orcas are incredibly intelligent. As far as we can tell, their brains are devoted to socializing, problem solving, and sensory organs. With a rounded forehead, these not-so-fishy creatures use echolocation by emitting high pitched frequencies that bounce off their environment and are then absorbed by the bones and tissue on their head and passed along to the ear canal. These messages are then sent to the brain to create an image that the animal can interpret and react to accordingly. This amazing adaptation allows them to echolocate food, fellow orcas, danger, and the environment around them.

Taxonomic Breakdown:

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Artiodactyla Infraorder: Cetacea Family: Dephinidae Genus: Orcinus Species: Orcinus Orca

Conservation & Helping:

The first step towards conserving the unspeakably valuable species of the orca is to learn more about them. In 2008, the conservation status of the orca whale was changed to data deficient. This is neither a good or bad thing as it simply means that we need to know more before taking a stance on the official status of the species. Things that are currently threatening the orca's natural life are the depletion of food for the species, oil spills, pollution, and sound disturbances that have been evidenced to disrupt the ability for orcas to echolocate (this sound confusion can cause an orca to have damaged hearing, become stranded from their pod, or run into boats or land). We must do everything we can to protect this species and its environment. The planet depends on it.

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