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ESA Endangered

MMPA Depleted - AT1 Transients

MMPA - all populations

CITES Appendix II - all populations



Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Cetacea

Family: Delphinidae

Genus: Orcinus

Species: orca

Species Description

Weight:males can weigh up to 22,000 pounds (10,000 kg);females can weigh up to 16,500 pounds (7,500 kg)

Length:males can reach 32 feet (10 m);females can reach 28 feet (8.5 m)

Appearance:black on top with white undersides and white patches near their eyes; highly variable gray or white saddle behind the dorsal fin; these markings are unique across individuals and populations

Lifespan:up to 50-100 years:males typically live for about 30 years, but can live as long as 50-60 years;females typically live about 50 years, but can live as long as 100 years

Diet:varies (diet is often geographic or population specific), can include fish, marine mammals, sharks, and sea birds

Behavior:highly social animals, living within matriarchal societies; rely on underwater sound for orientation, feeding, and communication; produce whistles and pulsed calls, used for communication and maintaining group cohesion


Killer whales most widely distributed marine mammals, found in all parts of the oceans; most abundant in colder waters, including Antarctica, the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They also occur, though at lower densities, in tropical, subtropical, and offshore waters.

Killer whales are generally considered monotypic (belonging to one species). However, genetic studies and morphological evidence have led many cetacean biologists to now consider the existence of multiple species or subspecies of killer whales worldwide.

Adult males develop larger pectoral flippers, dorsal fins, tail flukes, and girths than females.

Female killer whales reach sexual maturity when they grow to about 15-18 feet (4.6 m-5.4 m) long, depending on geographic region. The gestation period for killer whales varies from 15-18 months. Birth may take place in any month--there is no distinct calving season. Calves are nursed for at least 1 year, and may be weaned between 1-2 years old. The birth rate for killer whales is not well understood, but, in some populations, is estimated as every 5 years for an average period of 25 years.

Killer whales are highly social animals that occur primarily in relatively stable social groups

that often range in size from 2 to 15 animals. Larger groups (rarely as large as several

hundred individuals) occasionally form, but are usually considered temporary groupings

of smaller social units that probably congregate for seasonal concentrations of prey,

social interaction, or mating.




NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2016, [online]

(Accessed 14 march 2016)


Killer Whale Range

Click for larger view

Credit: NOAA

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