Orcinus orca - Killer whale:

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Summary Information
Living Organisms / Animalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Cetacea / Delphinidae / Orcinus / Species
Alternative Names
  • Orca
  • Grampus
  • Delphinus orca Linnaeus, 1758; European seas.
Description Powerful build, with striking black and white pattern and tall triangular or sickle shaped centrally placed dorsal fin (B142).


  • Male: 4,000-5,000kg (B142)
  • Female: 2,500-3,000 kg (B142)


  • Male: 5.7-9.5m/20-30ft (D23)
  • Female: 5.6-5.7m; male 9.4-9.5m (B142)
  • Neonate: Length 208-220cm (B142).

External Appearance:

  • Body: powerful robust torpedo shape.
  • Head: conical, beak indistinct. Conspicuous white oval patch above/behind eye.
  • Teeth: large, conical, ten to 13 pairs.
  • Colour: Dorsal and flanks black, abdomen white extending in a dorsal-pointing rounded lobe up the flanks. Underside of head and throat also white. Behind dorsal fin, indistinct grey saddle over back, pointing cranially.
  • Flippers: large, rounded, paddle-shaped, dark.
  • Dorsal fin: centrally placed along back, in females and immature animals sickle-shaped, in adult males tall (to 1.8m), erect, triangular and sometimes tilted forwards. N.B. Dorsal fin of males twice as long as that of females, and straight (D23)
  • Tail: flukes have shallow median notch and concave trailing edge. Dorsal black, ventral white.
  • (B142).
Range and Habitat World-wide; tropical to polar regions.
  • North-east Atlantic: most numerous around Iceland, Faeroes and localised off western Norway.
  • Britain and Ireland waters: widely distributed in small numbers. Mainly Atlantic seaboard and northern North Sea. Rare/absent in southern North Sea and English Channel.

(B51, B142)


  • Around Britain seen in coastal waters mainly April to September. May be offshore movement in autumn/winter (B142).


  • Mainly polar and temperate waters (B51).
Further Information Food:
  • Fish (including Salmo, Clupea, Gadus, Scomber, Pleurogrammus, Hippoglossus, Sardinella and Sardus spp.),
  • Squid.
  • Marine mammals (other cetaceans, and seals).
  • Occasionally turtles, birds (e.g. auks, kittiwakes).


Feeding Behaviour:

  • Co-operative feeding behaviour noted (B142).


  • Births probably mainly late autumn/winter (October to January).
  • Gestation about 12 to 16 months.
  • Lactation at least 12 months.
  • Calving interval at least three years.
  • Sexual maturity: males 15-16 years, females 8-10 years.
  • (B142)

Breeding Behaviour:

  • Probably polygynous or promiscuous (B142).


  • Swim mainly 14-22 km/hour, but up to 50km/hour (B142).

Social Behaviour:

  • Groups may be small (e.g. up to 8 individuals) or larger (80-100 individuals)
  • Matriarchal social system; mainly family units.
  • (B142).

Organisations (UK Contacts):

Electronic Library (further reading):

General Legislation:

Individual techniques:

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