Orcinus Orca


Above photo of orcas in Walindi, Papua New Guinea, was scanned from Issue 8 of the Blackfish Sounder, in 2000.

Orcas are the most widely spread cetacean species in the world. They are as international as humans. Their range stretches from Antarctica to the Arctic, from Iceland to Japan, from Canada to New Zealand.
Everywhere they are, they are different. In BC, we have the residents, transients, and offshores. In Norway, there are the fish-herding pods, in New Zealand, orcas who play frisbee with sting rays.
So just what are these magnificent, elusive creatures? I'll tell you what they are: they are dolphins. Huge, powerful dolphins. The 'Killer Whale' is the largest dolphin of them all.
Males and females are different from one another: females are smaller, with smaller, curved dorsal (back) fins, and smaller flukes. They are 17-24 ft long, and weigh between 3000 and 8000 lb.
Males are much larger, and their dorsal fins make them easy to identify. Up to six feet in length, they tower above the females. Their tails are also different; they are larger, and by sexual maturity, their tails have curled slightly. Their pectoral (side) fins are also practically twice as big as the females'. They are 22-27 ft long, and can weigh 8000 to 12000 lb.
Their diets are a little complicated (eventually their food will get its own page). They spread over the Earth, intelligent, speedy, and powerful, with no natural enemies.
These pages will hopefully tell you all the basic information you need to know. Let's start with the basic scientific classification:

Kingdom: Animal
Phylum: Chordate
Class: Mammalians
Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Sub-Family: Orcaninae or Globicephalinae
Genus: Orcinus
Species: Orca

Did you understand all that? The kingdom indicates that the orca is an animal, not a plant (I think you already knew that). 'Chordate' and 'Vertebrata' mean pretty much the same thing-they have a backbone. The class shows that the orca is a mammal.
The order, Cetacea, is the order of all whales, dolphins and porpoises. The sub-order, Odontoceti, includes all whales, dolphins and porpoises WITH TEETH.
The Family, Delphinidae, means the orca is part of the dolphin family. The sub-family means the orca is part of a smaller group of dolphins. This family, Globicephalinae, includes pilot whales, etc. They are in this family together because, although they are considered dolphins, they are different from dolphins AND whales. That is why scientists are considering the family Orcaninae, which will make them seperate.
The last two, Orcinus Orca, form the orca's scientific name. But that's another matter.
For more information on Orcinus Orca check out these pages:

-What are they doing?

-Fins, Tails, and Blowholes

-What do they eat? Orca Hunting Strategies Around the World

-Lifelines and Lifespans

-What's in a name?

-The History Between Humans and the Orca

-What are they Saying? Communications & Sounds

-Orcas in Trouble