Orcas Journal

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Orcas (Orcinus orca)

The orca or "killer whale" has inspired fear, awe, and the respect of seafarers since ancient times. In the myths of some Northwest coastal tribes, it was said that orcas could pull down canoes full of warriors and change them into whales. When the orca was sighted near a village, they were believed to be lost relatives returning to communicate with their families.

Killer whales, so named because of their ferocity when hunting, are unlike most cetaceans in that they prey on warm-blooded animals, including smaller members of the whale family. However, there are no confirmed records of any attack on humans by a killer whale, either in captivity or in the wild. Never.

Evolved from land mammals 60 millions years ago, orcas inhabit all oceans of the earth and are supremely adapted to their water world. With their beautiful, hydrodynamic shape and powerful muscles, they can move through the water at speeds up to 26 knots, the swiftest of whales. Most amazing is their echolocation system. Squeaks, clicks, groans, whistles, and almost indescribable noises are focused through a lens of oil lying against the front of the skull. This sensitive system is used for communication and reading the surrounding environment. Orcas can have distinct dialects unique among their own pods and are believed to retain them throughout their lives.

The pods or family units of the orca travel in continuous motion, night and day. Females are the core of the group, averaging 27 feet long, weighing 5 or 6 tons and are believed to live as long as a century. Newborn calves average 8 feet long and weigh about 400 pounds. A bull can measure as much as 32 feet long and weigh 9 or 10 tons.

Though the International Whaling Commission has placed a ban on all pelagic orca hunting, their capture for research and exhibition is still allowed. Yes, whales in captivity educate and entertain millions of people, but one must question the right of anyone to exploit so remarkable and sophisticated an animal for profit.

Called the "wolf of the sea," the orca is in reality both a fierce predator and a gentle sentient being. Its powerful body, 48 sharp teeth, and large size make it supremely adapted as a predator. Its complex social order, astounding echolocation system/communication ability and highly evolved brain, capable of processing complex signals instantaneously, add another dimension to this remarkable animal. All of these attributes surely go to make the orca the supreme predator on earth, save one.

artwork by Linda Matusich © 2004 

text by Dan Burgevin

Tags: animals,