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Killer Whale - Orcinus orca
Photo by Gary L. Friedrichsen

Killer whales, or orcas, are very well known due to their unique markings and ominous name. These mammals are part of the dolphin family. They spy hop, breach, lobtail and slap their pectoral fins. They are often encountered in pods or sub-pods that can vary from a few individuals to more than 30 members. There are several races of orcas, "residents" which feed on fish, "transients" that feed on other marine mammals, and "offshores" of which little is known.

Killer Whale
(Orcinus orca)

Seen throughout the world's oceans, particularly in the polar regions; most commonly found in the northern latitudes, especially the northeastern Pacific

Found in both open water and near shore regions

Fish, squid, octopus, and marine mammals like sea lions, seals, and other whales


The status of this species is representative of the populations within the waters of this Sanctuary only, not global populations.

Quick Fact
Members in a killer whale pod usually stay together for life, and groups of closely related pods (clans) develop their own unique dialects.

Learn More
- Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
- The National Marine Mammal Laboratory
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology