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Orcas, commonly known as killer whales, are large marine mammals that belong to the suborder odontoceti, or toothed whale. They are one of the most recognized animals in the world because of their large size and distinct black and white pattern.
See the fact file below for more information on the Killer Whales or alternatively, you can download our 23-page Killer Whale worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
Habitat, Anatomy and Life Cycle
- Common Name: Killer Whale or Orca
- Scientific Name: Orcinus orca
- Type: Mammal
- Diet: Carnivores
- Group Name: Pod
- Average Lifespan in the Wild: 50 to 80 years
- Average Size: 23 to 32 feet
- Average Weight: Up to 6 tons
- Aside from orca, killer whales are also called blackfish and wolves of the sea. They live in oceans and seas around the world. Killer whales can easily adapt to warm and cold climates and prefer to stay near the coastline.
- There are killer whales near the equator as well as in the polar regions.
- They have been documented traveling long distances – as far as 2 000 kilometers.
- Killer whales are carnivores. They prey on many marine animals like fish, squid, octopus, sea lions, seals, marine birds, penguins, dolphins, whales and even sharks.
- Orcas hunt in pods, usually composed of 30 to 40 individuals. There are resident pods that consume a fish and squid diet, while transient pods usually prey on marine mammals.
- Killer whales have a distinctive long dorsal fin located on their back and black and white coloration.
- Behind their dorsal fin is a blotch of gray called a saddle. They have a cylindrical body shape, which tapers on both ends.
- They are considered the largest of the dolphin family, weighing up to 6 tons and growing up to 32 feet. According to Sea World, the largest orca ever recorded was 32 feet long.
- Orcas share many characteristics with dolphins but they also possess unique features. The top color of their body is black while the bottom is mostly white. This characteristic is called countershading.
- Of all marine mammals, male killer whales have the largest dorsal fin, which can grow up to 6 feet long. Females have shorter and curved dorsal fins.
- Between the dorsal fin and the flukes is the peduncle. Both the dorsal fin and flukes are made of dense connective tissue.
- Orcas have paddle-shaped pectoral fins used for steering and stopping, along with the fluke.
- They have excellent eyesight both in and out of the water. Like other cetaceans, killer whales have a well-developed sense of hearing. They receive sound in their jawbones through receptors.
- They breathe using a blowhole that is controlled by a muscular flap.
- The gestation period of killer whales lasts between 15 to 18 months. A baby orca or calf is usually born tail first. It measures about 8.5 feet long and weighs up to 315 lbs. Calves are weaned after a year when they begin hunting with other pod members.
- Both sexes reach sexual maturity at the age of 15. Female killer whales usually give birth to a single baby once every 3 to 5 years. At the age of 40, they stop reproducing.
- Female killer whales live longer than males. An average orca lifespan in the wild is 30 to 80 years. In captivity, it is less than 20 years.
Behavioral Traits and Habits
- These marine mammals live in extremely close family groups. They migrate and hunt in pods, which can be composed of different generations.
- A member of a pod usually separates during mating. In human terms, a pod may consist of children, their parents, grandparents and friends.
- If a killer whale makes a large kill, the rest of the group shares it. Given their close social structure and intelligence, killer whales are one of the most successful hunters in the animal kingdom.
- Like elephants and humans, killer whales are very protective of their young.
- In terms of socialization, orcas communicate through clicks and whistles. Moreover, they make communicative gestures like jumping out of the water, charging, lobtailing, light touches and spy-hopping to relay information.
- Killer whales are known for their echolocation wherein sound waves travel underwater until it hit any object and bounce back.
Dangers to Killer Whales
- According to the IUCN, the exact population of orcas is unknown. Among the threats to orcas are the following:
- Water contaminants such as oil and chemicals.
- Exploitation and killing by humans.
- Disturbance due to whale-watching tourism.
- Food shortages due to overfishing.
In Popular Culture
- In 1993, the film Free Willy depicted the friendship between a young boy and a killer whale trapped by a group of whalers and sold to an aquarium. Jesse battles against the whalers and amusement park to free Willy and reunite him with his family.
- The movie inspired the real-life release of Keiko, the whale who played Willy.
- Killer whales are large, social and highly intelligent animals. When kept in captivity, they can develop dysfunctional behavior, which can be dangerous to their trainers.
Killer Whale Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about killer whales across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Killer Whale worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the orcas, commonly known as killer whales, which are large marine mammals that belong to the suborder odontoceti, or toothed whale. They are one of the most recognized animals in the world because of their large size and distinct black and white pattern.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Killer Whale Facts
- Info Cards
- Orca Anatomy
- True or False
- Orca Island
- The Killer Whale
- The Coolest Whales
- Whale Search
- The Killers
- Meet Mr. Iceberg
- Free Willy
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Link will appear as Killer Whale (Orca) Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, August 5, 2018
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.