Killer Whale Facts



Here are some killer whale facts about Orcas, those amazing animals that live in the waters around the San Juan Islands Washington. Want to know some facts? Interested in San Juan whale watching but you don't know about the whale watching season? Read on!

Orca family group, Simply San Juan
Common Name: Orca, or, Killer Whale
Scientific Name: Orcinus Orca
Family: Dolphin
Class: Marine Mammal
"Orca" comes from the Latin and translates as "belonging to Orcus," a Roman god of the netherworld. "Orca" also translates as "large-bellied pot or jar," describing their rounded, jar-shaped body.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanOrcas are mammals: they are warm blooded, they breathe air, they give birth to live young, they produce milk to feed their young, and they have hair.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanOrcas are jet-black with a grayish 'saddle patch' and white belly. The saddle patch is the colored area just behind the dorsal fin


Orca icon, Simply San JuanOrcas are toothed whales, with 40-52 cone-shaped teeth.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanFemale Orcas and immature males have curved dorsal fins. Mature males have straight, tall dorsal fins measuring to about six feet by the age of 20.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanMature male Orcas grow to a length of about 23 feet; females less than 20. The largest known Orca measured more than 31 feet.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanOrcas live about as long as humans, males to about 60 and females sometimes into their 80's.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanOrcas are social animals, living in large family groups called pods. The average pod size is of approximately 30 individuals, although pods of over 150 have been counted.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanOrcas are matriarchal, the female is the head of the family.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanThe Southern resident orcas eat fish -- mostly salmon, but also cod and herring, from 100 to as much as 300 pounds per day.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanOrca Pods travel patterns are determined by availability of food. One of the more interesting killer whale facts, and not widely known, is that there isn't really a "whale watching season," but since their major food source, salmon, is available mostly during the summer months around the San Juan Islands, that's the best time to see them because they go where the food goes!


Orca icon, Simply San JuanOrcas are known for a few characteristic behaviors: Breaching -- when they leap into the air, and spin or twist, landing on their sides or backs. Very exciting! Spyhopping -- when they pop up vertically , apparently to look around. Fluke Slaps and Lobtailing -- continually slapping the water surface with their pectoral fins or tails.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanOrca whales can swim at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, swimming from 75 - 100 miles every day.


Orca icon, Simply San JuanThe Southern resident pods are commonly seen around san Juan Island between June and September, although J-pod has been observed here year-round. Members of K- and L-pods have been observed during the winter as far south as Monterey, California.

Read about the Minke whale and the Gray whale, two other whales commonly seen around the Islands.

You can find a lot more Killer whale facts by visiting research sites like The Whale Museum (Whale Museum Friday Harbor, where you can see movies, a life-sized whale model, and a whale skeleton!), Orca Survey, and Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance.

Looking for some kid's books with killer whale facts? These are my book picks for the best orca whale books for kids.

Jump straight to these facts: Little Brown Bats, Bird Facts, Cool Facts, Deer Facts, Red Fox Facts, Hawk Facts, Raccoon Facts, Flying Squirrels, Sea Lion Facts, Minke Whales, or Gray Whales.

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