KILLER WHALES

Orcinus orca

By: Foster Pace and Hayley Smith

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Range

Killer whales typically gravitate to waters with depths of between 65 and 196 feet. They also favor cold waters, although they frequently remain in temperate locations. They inhabit every single ocean. Killer whales also frequently live in bodies of water that are somewhat shut off and hard to access.

Apperance

Orcas can grow between 23 and 32 ft (7 to 9.7 m), and weigh as much as 6 tons. Depending on the pod the killer whales belongs to their dorsal fin may either be long, tapered and pointed in a triangular fashion or rounded and curved towards the end. Killer whales have black backs, white chests and sides and white circles above and behind their eyes. Because the killer whale belongs to the toothed whale family these dolphins are born with a single blowhole instead of the two that baleen whales possess.

Diet

They feast on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, employing teeth that can be four inches (ten centimeters) long. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds.

Threats

Recent studies have found that orcas are amongst the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. Pollution and chemical contamination make orcas more susceptible to disease and likely cause reproductive difficulties.

Reproduction

Both the male and female killer whales mature around the age of 15 although males usually start reproducing around the ages of 19 – 21. After reaching sexual maturity and becoming impregnated the female killer whale will usually produce a single offspring once every 3 – 5 years until they reach the age of 40 or are no longer able to reproduce. When it comes to giving birth the average period between fertilization and birth for a female killer whale often lasts between 15 – 18 months. During delivery the child is often born tail first in order to minimize its chances of drowning, however there are cases of killer whales being born head first.

Communication

Whales make a wide variety of communicative sounds, and each pod has distinctive noises that its members will recognize even at a distance. They use echolocation to communicate and hunt, making sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back, revealing their location, size, and shape.
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