10 Facts You Didn't Know About Orca
19 Jul 2019

10 Facts You Didn't Know About Orca

It's hard to find someone that doesn't like orca, with their power, beauty and mystery there is something very captivating about these kings and queens of the ocean!



A pod of orca surface in front of Motutapu Island, Auckland


1. The name killer whale derives from their original name 'whale killers' given to them by sailors who saw them hunting whales. As time progressed, the name was 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, they 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.


Range of orca/killer whales (c) NOAA


4. Formally only 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 <200 animals which class them as Nationally Vulnerable in New Zealand's Threat Classification System. The last population estimated there to be 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 and they can often be seen up around rocky reefs and in shallows of beaches whilst they are hunting. 


An orca surfaces with its prey, a shark, in front of passengers


7. The average life span of an orca is not too dissimilar to a human's estimated to be between 50-80 years for females but slightly less for males at 29-60 years.


8.  New Zealand orca appears to be split into 3 sub-populations: ones that travel only around the North Island, ones that travel only around the South Island and ones 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 whilst females are smaller growing up to about 7 metres and weighing up to 3 tonnes. Males are the only ones to have the tall dorsal fin which can grow up to 1.8m (or 6 foot!) compared to females whose dorsal fins measure up to 80cm.


10. In Auckland, orca can be seen passing through the area in any month of the year.


Passengers watch two orca surface. Rangitoto Island and Auckland City can be seen in the background.


You can check out our incredible orca encounters along with lots of other videos by heading over to our YouTube channel.