9 Killer Whale Facts For Kids
Killer whales are some of the coolest animals that are out in the wild today. Not only are they huge with big white tummies and awesome eye patches, each one is also truly unique. Just like you’ve got a fingerprint that is yours alone, killer whales have a mark by their dorsal fin that is theirs alone as well. This allows scientists to always know which killer whale they are looking at. Here are some more fun facts about these animals to learn today too!
1. That’s Not a Whale
Killer whales aren’t actually whales at all. When you see one, what you’re looking at is the world’s largest dolphin. These majestic creatures got their name because when people first saw them, they saw that they could battle a whale. Since they could eat a whale as a tasty treat, the sailors who first observed them called them Killers of Whales.
Since Killers of Whales is kind of hard to say [Hey! Would you like to go see the Killers of Whales tour today with me?], The name was eventually shortened to killer whale. Their scientific name is Orcinus Orca, so to further eliminate any confusion, many people today just call them orcas. Many of them are also given individual names by scientists, even when they are out in the wild.
2. Killer Whales Love Their Momma
Killer whales make it cool to be a mama’s boy. Almost all of the males in the species will stick by their moms throughout their entire lives. Scientists have found that the average male killer whale will spend almost 40% of its life swimming next to its mother. Even when male killer whales leave their family to do something else, they almost always come back within a few days.
Mom is definitely in charge of her family. Most family groups of killer whales, which are called pods, are led by the Grandmother or oldest female within the group. It’s also the moms that tend to hunt more than the boys with this species. So what is the job of the male killer whales in each pod? They look after the toddlers while mom deals with the infants or goes out to hunt.
3. That’s a Smart Cookie
Killer whales have one of the largest brains in the entire world. Some animals have been discovered having a 15 pound brain! The average adult human brain is just 3 pounds in comparison, or 5 times smaller. Scientists believe that the size of their brain is what helps to contribute to their overall intelligence. Killer whales are one of the smartest animals on the planet.
How do we know that killer whales are so smart? Part of it comes from their social family structure. Almost all killer whale families stick together throughout their entire lives. They work together, devise strategies together, and learn from their mistakes. They’re also not afraid to take a risk. When they are hunting, a killer whale will breach itself, or purposely put itself out of the water, to snag some prey.
4. Killer Whales Have Internal Radar
Instead of having voices, killer whales use a process of communication that is called echolocation. This is a lot like radar. Soundwaves are sent out through the water and then the killer whales listen for the echo of the soundwaves that have bounced off of an object. Based on the noises that they hear, a killer whale can find out if they are about to swim into an underwater cliff or come face-to-face with a huge tunafish.
Their echolocation is also quite unique. Every killer whale has their own voice. It’s like they all communicate with their own accent! If you’ve ever heard somebody from Ireland have a conversation with someone from the Midwestern United States, then you kind of get a picture of what it sounds like when killer whales talk with each other as they find out more about their environment.
5. Families Do Different Things
A killer whale family doesn’t migrate like other dolphins and sea animals tend to do. They don’t follow the warm waters during the seasons. They tend to find a home and then stick to it instead. That doesn’t mean killer whales won’t swim for several hundred miles to find a tasty treat. It just means that when they’ve had a night out on the ocean town, they’ll come back home and enjoy each other’s company.
Scientists believe that there are three different types of pods that killer whales tend to form: offshore, resident, and transient. The transient pods are the most active killer whale family groups there are. These animals are always on the move, trying to find a new source of food. Resident killer whales tend to stay in one location and it’s usually somewhere close to shore. They might swim around the region of their home, but you can generally find them in one concentric place. The offshore pods like the open sea and rarely venture close to shore.
Why is there such variation within the different killer whale families? Scientists believe that there could be more than one type of killer whale. The only problem is that we don’t know a lot about these incredible creatures as of yet, so there really isn’t a good answer.
6. That’s a Big Family
Killer whale pods can grow pretty large. Although some pods might only have about 10 killer whales in them, some offshore pods can be as big as 60 animals. These animals are what scientists like to call an “apex predator.” It means that they are at the top of the food chain. Other animals might be able to eat a killer whale if they wanted to do so, but for the most part, the killer whale is going to win any battle it faces.
Killer whales will even attack the largest animal that scientists know of in the world today: the blue whale.
The reason why their hunting skills are so effective is that they work together as a family. When there is a threat near or they are after some food, the killer whales will form a circle around their targets. Then they will swim around in a circle to prevent those targets from leaving. The circle becomes smaller and smaller until there is no place for the target of the killer whales to get away. Once this happens, they will strike by bumping and ramming with their tails and heads.
There intelligence has also helped the hunting process. Killer whales have learned that sharks tend to go immobile when they are flipped over. If a great white shark is stalking a killer whale, then the killer whale knows that all it needs to do is to flip the shark over and it will be safe.
7. They Don’t Like to Be Captured
For the most part, humans and killer whales have a pretty good cohabiting existence. People don’t generally hunt them and killer whales in the wild have never been known to hurt a person. The one issue that is up for debate is the capture of killer whales for scientific study or entertainment purposes.
When capturing events are happening, killer whales know exactly what is going on. They attempt to thwart the capturing process and sometimes are successful. Sometimes pods will split up to lead people away from the main group, while at other times they will sink to the bottom of the water and stay there as long as they can hold their breath.
Killer whales who are out in the wild live to be twice as old, on average, as their captured counterparts. This shows that confinement, combined with animal’s intelligence, is not a good combination.
8. You Can Find Them Almost Everywhere
Killer whales are one of the few animals that can be found almost anywhere in the world. Their territory stretches from polar region to polar region. This makes them one of the most widespread of all the animals of the sea that we know about today. From Antarctica to the North Pole, if you are out on the water, you have a chance to find a killer whale.
9. Becoming a Teenager
Killer whales live longer than other animals do, so they mature at a slower rate than other animals do too. Male killer whales typically don’t become mature until around their 10th birthday. The same can be true for female killer whales. This means that when a mom has a calf, the two of them could be swimming together for the next decade as a family.
Unlike some other animals of the sea, killer whales are not considered to be an endangered species. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t in danger from the same threats that other animals of the oceans face today. From overfishing to habitat infringement to ocean acidification and pollution, these awesome animals need your help in order to survive. By taking care of the little things, we can take care of the big things. Something as simple as recycling a leftover soda can may be a step toward making sure that animals like the killer whale can continue to thrive for an indefinite period of time.