KILLER WHALES

By: Emily Kern and Tori Zachary




Killer whales are toothed whales. They may even be the most popular toothed whales otherwise known as orcas. They have teeth that fit tightly together and are very strong. They are called killer whales because their powerful jaws and teeth allow them to eat other animals. Killer whales have four fins. Their biggest one is the dorsal fin. Actually, killer whales have the longest dorsal fin of any whale. The dorsal fin of the male can be as long as 6 feet, and also sharp. The killer whales are black with large white markings on their undersides and on the sides of their heads. The skin of the killer whale is very rubbery.

Killer whales are medium sized whales. The male grows an average of 30 feet or more and the female grows to be 18 feet long. The average weight of a killer whale is about 9 tons.

They also make a number of sounds: croaks , clicking noises, or creaky flute like tones that trill up & down, groans squeaks and shrills. Some of them sound like WHEE-AU-EEEK.

Killer whales live in the cold waters of the Northern Pacific & Atlantic Oceans & the Arctic Sea. They are often found off the Western coast of North America, near Alaska and British Columbia. Killer whales also live south of Africa and Australia in the cold Arctic Seas and Tropics. In the winter the families of killer whales migrate to warmer waters. That's where their young are born.

All whales are mammals and they need air to breathe. They cannot breathe under water. Killer whales come to the surface to breathe. They breathe from a hole in the top of their head which is called a blow hole. The whales keep their blowhole closed while they are underwater. They open it when they want to breathe.

Killer whales eat fish and meat. Sometimes they eat whales bigger than themselves. Killer whales are fun to watch, but they can also be very deadly. As few as five and sometimes as many as 50 killer whales hunt together in packs called pods. They attack all kinds of fish. They also eat other animals like seals, whales, baleen whales, dolphins, porpoises, manatees, turtles, squid, sea lions and other animals that are found in the icy regions where killer whales live. If a killer whale sees a seal sitting on a ice floe, he may ram his body against it to make the seal fall off. Then he cuts the seal in half and eats it. Like dolphins, Orcas love to play. Although they can weigh as much as 18,000 pounds and grow up to be 32 feet, they are very athletic. Killer whales can swim 30 miles per hour and can leap and turn quickly. These talents are what makes them so dangerous. They fear nothing and can chase down almost any sea creature.

Calves are born in the water. Deliveries can be either tail first or head first. The umbilical cord snaps during or soon after delivery. The calf suckles from the nipples concealed in abdominal mammary slits. Killer Whale calves begin nursing several hours after birth. Calves nurse close to the surface of the water. The mother glides in a horizontal position with her tail arched and the calf swims on its side with it's mouth on the right or left mammary gland. Calves nurse for about 5 to 10 seconds at a time, several times an hour, 24 hours a day. The mother's milk is very rich so that the baby can rapidly develop a thick, insulating layer of blubber. The fat content of the mothers milk increases as the calf develops. It ranges from about 28% to 48%. A calf may nurse up to 12 months.

A mother killer whale stays close to her calf and attentively directs its movement. The baby swims close to its mother and can be carried in it's mothers "slip stream," a type of water that comes as the mother glides so that the baby doesn't have to swim very much. This helps the baby swim with less energy and enables the mother and calf to keep up with the pod. Based on the limited data collected from populations at sea, a female may bear a calf every five years. The calf is about 8 feet long and weighs about 300 to 400 pounds. The light areas of some young killer whales may be creamy white to lemon yellow rather than white. This color usually turns white by the first year. In the first few days after birth, the dorsal fin and tail gradually stiffens. Killer whales lay one egg a year. A killer whale's upper teeth come in at about two to four months. The lower teeth come in at about 3 to 5 months.

Killer whales can be seen in marine parks and zoos through out the United States. These whales are members of the dolphin family and can perform similar tricks, for instance, they leap right out of the water, and also enjoy standing on their tails.

Killer whales have to eat other animals in order to survive, however they are very gentle with humans. Many people believe that orcas should not be held in captivity. In aquariums, orcas tend to live for about 13 years, compared to those in the wild who live 40 to 60 years.

Some people wonder if the bond form between trainers & orcas adequately replaces the whales social life in the wild. They do enjoy having their rubbery skin petted by human hands. But sometimes Orca become so bored that they think up tricks of their own just to kill time.

Orcas and dolphins, are easy to train. They have large brains and are very intelligent. They are affectionate, and gentle as well, and usually cooperate with their trainer. Because of their wondrous performances at marine parks, orcas have helped to strengthen the whale population.

Although killer whales are big, they are really very sweet. Now that you've found out more about the killer whale, do you have more respect for them? Think about it.

Here is a fact file that we found: Common name; Killer Whale, Orca Scientific name: Orcinus orca Type: Toothed whale Color: Black with white patches Size: Around 30 feet (for males) Weight Up to ten tons Number in world: Scientists have not counted how many killer whales live in the ocean but they are thought to be plentiful.


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