The scientific name for the Killer
Whale is Orcinus orca. It is a species in the taxonomic
order, Cetacea. Altogether, there are 77 species of
cetaceans, split into two suborders: Mysticeti and
Odontoceti. There are ten species of mysticetes,
including the largest animal in the world, the blue
whale (Balaenoptera musculus). These whales are equipped
with giant plates called baleen which they use to gather
their food. Thus, they are often referred to as baleen
The other species of whales are
called odontocetes, or toothed whales. River dolphins,
beaked whales, porpoises, and sperm whales are all
examples of odontocetes. Orcas are odontocetes too. They
are the largest members of the dolphin family which also
includes the Bottlenose dolphin, (Tursiops truncatus)
and many others.
Like all dolphins, Orcas have
torpedo-shaped bodies and this shape makes them
well-suited for moving smoothly through the ocean. They
are able to reach speeds up to 30 mph!
Orcas, like all whales, are
mammals and give birth to live, air-breathing babies
that immediately rise to the surface for a breath. The
gestation period lasts anywhere from 15 to 17 months. At
birth, Orcas weigh about 200 pounds.
Adult Orcas are quite large.
Females can reach 8 meters in length and weigh about 8
tons; males can grow to be as long as 9 meters and weigh
up to 10 tons!
Orcas as a species are quite
long-lived. In the wild, male Killer Whales are thought
to live close to 50 years, and females live even longer.
There is evidence that one wild female near British
Columbia is more than 70 years old and still living!