10 Facts You Didn't Know About Orca

With their power, beauty and mystery there is something very captivating about these kings and queens of the ocean!

1. The name killer whale derives from their original name whale killers’ given to them by sailors who saw them hunting whales. Over time, the name eventually switched around.  The name ‘orca‘ comes from their Latin species name Orcinus orca, where orcinus translates to mean ‘Kingdom of the dead’.

2.  Despite their name, killer whales are actually a dolphin – the largest species of oceanic dolphin!

3. Orca can be seen in every ocean on the earth. They are one of the most successful marine mammals in terms of range.

4. While orca are formally recognised as one species, there are at least 10 different ‘ecotypes’ around the world. Ecotypes are defined as populations with differences in diet, behaviour and vocalisations. Many orca populations don’t fit into these ecotypes, including the ones we find here in New Zealand.

  • Northern Hemisphere Ecotypes: Residents, Transient/Bigg’s, Offshores, Type 1  + Type 2 Eastern North Atlantic
  • Southern Hemisphere Ecotypes: Antarctic Type A, Antarctic Type B (Pack Ice), Antarctic Small Type B (Gerlache), Antarctic Type C (Ross Sea) and Subantarctic Type D

5. In New Zealand, there are thought to be less than 200 animals, which classes them as Nationally Vulnerable in New Zealand’s Threat Classification System. According to the most recent population estimate there are 115 animals alive (Visser, 2000). 

6. Whilst they can and do eat prey such as finfish and marine mammals, New Zealand orca have become specialised at hunting sharks and rays. They can often be seen up around rocky reefs and in the shallows of beaches while they are hunting. 

7. The average life span of an orca is not too dissimilar to a human, at 50-80 years for females and slightly less for males at 29-60 years.

8.  New Zealand orca appear to be split into 3 sub-populations: one that travels only around the North Island, one that travels only around the South Island and one that travel around both islands.

9. Adults show some differences in appearance between the sexes. Males can grow up to approximately 8 metres and weigh over 5 tonnes. Females are smaller, growing up to about 7 metres and weighing up to 3 tonnes. Males have an impressively tall dorsal fin, which can grow up to 1.8m (or 6 foot!), compared to females whose dorsal fins measure up to 80cm.

10. Orca pass through the Auckland area throughout the year, which means we could see them on any of our safaris.

You can check out our incredible orca encounters, along with lots of other videos, on our YouTube channel.