Juneau Whale Watching | Killer Whales | Orca | Whale Watch Juneau Alaska

Killer whales also known as orcas are one of the most popular big marine mammals in the world. Killer whales are not whales as most people think that they are. They are actually dolphins, the largest species of dolphins on the planet. They can hunt almost anything in the waters, including whales, sharks and other dolphins, yet no marine animal is able to hunt them. This is actually the reason they are called killer whales, because of their hunting abilities, not because they attack humans as some would think.

Humans are not on the list of menu for killer whales, the few times orcas have been said to injure humans are while in captivity, in the wild however, they don’t harm humans.

What Do They Look Like

These fishes are actually easily recognizable. They are popular for their white and black colouring. This colouring serves as a kind of camouflage in the waters thus enabling them to sneak up on their prey. Apart from their colouring, their dorsal fins are also very iconic. It can grow up to lengths of 2 meters, that it longer than most humans.
A full sized Orca can grow up to lengths of 30 feet long and then weigh as much as 10 tons. This is about the size of a school bus. There are not many mammals that are this large. So this put Orcas in the class of apex predators These animals are also very fast, due to their size and shape. They can reach speeds of up to 56 kph, making them one of the fastest species in the ocean. Their speed, and the size of their teeth (which can bet up to 4 inches long), enables them to snatch animals in the air above the sea, in the water and even along the coast.

Where Do They Live

Killer whales are the most widely distributed mammals in the world, just next to humans. Therefore they can be found in all the oceans and major seas in the world. They are adapted to living both in warm waters of the equator and the colder waters of the poles.


Orcas are very intelligent animals and also social, they hunt in packs, in an organised manner. Their diet range is very diverse. They eat seals, sea lions, elephant seals, sharks, whales, other dolphins, octopuses and smaller fishes.

However, some pods prefer certain meals over others. So a particular pod might specialize in hunting schools of salmon and over the generations and perfect the art. Apart from Blue whales and full grow male sperm whales very few animals in the sea are safe from these fearsome predators. Even group of white sharks, another apex predator have been said to flee hunting grounds when pods of Orcas are approaching.

Types of Killer Whales

It usually comes as quite a shock to people find out that there are actually different types of whales. You could compare these whales to different tribes or nationalities of humans. There are three major types of killer whales: Transient, Resident and Offshore killer whales. Killer whale populations are threatened therefore they receive protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Residents are listed as endangered species while their counterparts the “transients” are listed as “depleted”. They both receive even more special protection. However, not much is known about the offshore killer whales.

Differences between the Types of Killer Whales

First is that they have different behaviours, feeding pattern, culture, social structure and even genetic makeup. It was discovered that these different types of whales haven’t shared an ancestor in more than 750,000 years. There’s also a slight difference in their physical makeup, but it is only noticeable to the trained eye. Usually the resident killer whales are called this because they don’t often move far; they stay along the shoreline, choosing to remain inland. So they’ve earned the name “residents”. The transients however are more on the move. They travel large distances, sometimes all the way from Southeast Alaska to South East California. The resident killer whales often seen on Juneau whale watching excursions have their major diet to be salmon. They stay and move in large groups, with extended families staying together all their lives. They are very vocal during hunting, as the major prey, the salmon doesn’t hear their vocalizations.

The transients on the other hand hunt more of mammals such as seals, sea lions, generally aquatic mammals. They don’t stay in really large families though, this is because they move long distances, and they can be easily spotted by prays if they move in large groups. When their sizes begin to affect their hunting results, they further breakup into smaller groups. They are also very much less vocal than their residents, for the reason also that their major preys can hear their calls and vocalizations.

The different killer whales don’t mate outside of their types and they also rarely socialize outside their groups.

Killer whales have complex social structures and interactions; each group has its culture and even their vocalization dialects.


The major threats of killer whale populations are human activities, such as hunting, trapping them show off purposes and pollutions. Vessel noise also affects them, and makes it difficult for them to communicate and locate prey. The pollution depletes their natural diets, thereby reducing their food and their survival chances.

In some parts of the world, they are endangered species and are under the protection of conservation laws.

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