We’ve had quite a few discussions about killer whales ( Orcas ) within our online community, specifically about Orcas in captivity and those in Loro Parque.
I’ll touch on that towards the end of this article but first, I think it’s important to outline some important facts about killer whales as there seems to be some misconceptions.
Orcas ( Orcinus orca), are the largest member of the dolphin family.
Orca literally means “the shape of a barrel” in Latin, reflecting their body shape.
Due to their fierce reputation, orcas are sometimes called the Ballena asesina (“assassin whale”) by the Spanish.
They were referred to as “whale killers” by sailors who witnessed their attacks on larger animals, and over time this name evolved into “killer whales.” They are called this because they sometimes kill other whales, hunting them down in packs which has earned them the title “Wolves of the Sea.”
What Do Orcas Eat?
Killer whales feed on squid, sea turtles, octopus, sharks, rays, fish, seabirds.
They also hunt and eat other mammals such as seals, sea lions and whales.
Killer Whale Attacks
As mentioned before, killer whales hunt in packs and are extremely intelligent when it comes to hunting their prey.
They have been known to pursue whales for hundreds of miles until their target has been exhausted.
Have a look at this clip showing how through collective teamwork, they manage to capture a seal.
They travel in groups of between 3 – 30 which are referred to as pods.
It’s been documented that they learn hunting techniques from one another which is why they always seem to be able to synchronise their techniques when attacking their prey.
Another interesting encounter took place off the Californian coast between an orca and a great white shark.
I’ll let this clip explain what happened in this encounter:
By holding the shark upside down for 15 minutes or more, the orca caused the shark to suffocate and enter a tonic immobility state. This of course has been learned by the other pod members and the sharks are yet to return to the area to feed as they once did on the seals.
Here are a few comparisons between the two:
ORCA Orcinus orca
SIZE: Adult male up to 9.5m; adult female up to 8.2m.
WEIGHT: Male up to 5,600kg; female up to 3,600kg.
TEETH: 40–52 large, conical, inward-curving teeth in upper and lower jaw.
MAX SPEED: Bursts of 50kmph when in pursuit of prey.
TYPICAL PREY: Mostly fish and squid; also seals, sea lions and other marine mammals and sea birds. Consumes up to 200kg of food daily.
MAX PREY SIZE: Several records of orcas attacking and eating grey whale calves.
HUNTING TECHNIQUE: Often works in teams to corral fish or to distract prey to isolate or weaken it before delivering the killer blow.
SPECIAL SKILLS: Uses echolocation – a form of sonar – to detect shoals of fish under water.
GREAT WHITE SHARK Carcharodon carcharias
SIZE: 4–5.5m fully grown; occasionally over 6m. Females generally larger.
WEIGHT: Usually up to 1,000kg; rarely up to 2,200kg.
TEETH: 3,000 razor-sharp, triangular teeth arranged in several rows that rotate towards the front of the mouth, replacing broken ones as needed.
MAX SPEED: Often reaches 40kmph.
TYPICAL PREY: Mostly big fish, including tuna, rays and other sharks; also seals, sea lions, dolphins, turtles and sea birds.
MAX PREY SIZE: Sometimes attacks and kills smaller great whites
HUNTING TACTICS: Solitary, ambushes prey from below with a powerful surge.
SPECIAL SKILLS: Excellent sense of smell: can detect a drop of blood in 100 litres of water. Electromagnetic sense picks up the magnetic field produced by muscle activity in its prey.
Orcas & Tenerife
It’s not very common to see orcas while going out on one of the many whale watching excursions, but when you do, it is spectacular.
Orcas In Captivity
I don’t claim to be a marine biologist and just want to add my own views on the subject of the orcas kept in captivity, both here in Tenerife and elsewhere.
Animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity but after listening to both sides of the argument, I feel the only way forward is to create a proper sanctuary.
They could be freed but protected from the dangers of the wider ocean as these animals have grown to become dependent on humans and would not survive on their own. They’ve probably lost the knowledge of how to hunt for prey and would likely die within days if left to fend for themselves.
That’s just my views on the issue and I know it can be an emotional subject for some.
I hope you enjoyed the information about these incredible mammals and thanks for dropping in.