Have you ever wondered why there is an underlying respect for the orca in the food chain? Why do we, as a human’s, see orcas as a non-threatening mammal? But if you were a sea animal, you would be terrified. Something that humans and orcas have in common is that we are apex mammals. This information will be used to understand this species better so that we can challenge our romantic outlook on the orca. There will be a great deal of detail about each aspect of the orca that is relevant and important for the animation.

The Orcinus Orcas Name/Taxonomy/Anatomy

This carnivorous toothed whale’s taxonomy can be listed as followed: Kingdom:

Kingdom: Animalia
                  Phylum: Chordata
                                  Class: Mammalia
                                            Order: Cetacea
                                                        Family: Delphinidae

                                                                      Genus: Orcinus
                                                                                   Species: Orca

 Orcas are related to dolphins and depending on the type of orca they are (two different types are discussed later) they may eat dolphin or protect them. Because they are related to dolphins, that makes the orca whale a warm blooded, fat covered (blubber), mammal (Orca Odyssey, 2012). The orca stands out among other whales because of its black and white colored blubber. The top portion of the orca is a deep black and the bottom
portion and segment above the orcas’ eye is a milky white. Orcas on average live between 50 to 80 years old. They breath oxygen through their nostril (aka blow hole) when they breach the surface (jump out of the water in a 40 to 90-degree angle). To move, they push their sleek bodies through the water by pushing their tail in an up and down motion. They use their dorsal fin to maintain their balance (Washington Nature Mapping Program, 2010, para. 1-6).

The Orcinus Orcas Habitat and Unique Behaviors

The orca is considered a “distributed” sea life mammal. What this means is that they are widely distributed all throughout the oceans and seas (they do love the Pacific Northwest). Orcas habitats are broken into four different types of living environments and they are listed from A – D. The list goes as followed (SeaWorld, 2020, para. 4):

Group Name


Group A

Ice water

Group B

Open ice water

Group C

Inshore ice water 

Group D

Deep ocean water

In the animation, the orca is set near Alaska near ice sheets, that makes this orca Group B. Orcas exhibit unique behaviors while communicating with one another or hunting. Some of these behaviors include: breaching (the whale propelled 40% or more of its body out of the water to possibly stun pray), head slapping (the whale does a smaller lunge out of the water and hits its head against the water surface), pectoral slapping (the whale raises its two
fins out of the water and slaps the water surface), tail slapping (the whale slaps the surface of the water with their tails to communicate to other whales, or to warn its prey), tail throw (the whale slaps the top of the water surface with its tail with extreme force, this is a form of mating call),
spy hopping (the whale pokes its head out), logging (the whale is sleeping (Jenkins, 2015, para. 1 – 16). In the animation the orca depicted is tail slapping as a warning. 

The Orcinus Orcas Diet and Hunting Habits

Orcas have many subspecies that eat different animals and sea life. Each subspecies is an expert at eating different things. Orcas are apex predators (“top of the food chain”) and have been witnessed eating over 140 different types of aquatic life and land life (SeaWorld, 2020, para 1). There are multiple lifestyles an orca can live. This essay will focus on the orcas that are known to be defined as a “transient” or a “resident”. You can think of a transient orca as a “Lone Ranger” that hunts in smaller subgroups. As for the resident orca, you can think of them as having a hive mind mentality (a group that thinks collectively) and they live in groups of up to 40 other orcas. The transient orcas are known to have a diet that is vastly different from the resident orcas (Robeck et al, 2019, pg. 1, para. 2). The transients are known to eat more mammals and other aquatic life (sharks, seals, dolphins, turtles, moose, penguins, etc). While the residents are known to eat purely fish and smaller aquatic life. The residents are also known to protect other mammals (ex. Dolphins) from the transient orca’s attack (SeaWorld, 2020, para. 1-6). The orca in the replacement animation is considered a transient orca.


“I suddenly wake up in a freezing state. I need to warm up my body. As I look around, I see my daughter and 35 of my other brothers and sisters sleeping or looking back at me. I look up and lock eyes with the pale shimmer of the sun. I get a gurgling stinging feeling in my stomach that is alerting me to eat. If I need to eat, that means my daughter needs to eat. I make my way from the centre of the horde of whales to the edge of the horde with my daughter. I make the conscious decision to make my way to the top to get some fresh oxygen before I find some fish for my daughter and I. My daughter slowly lingers behind but after a few moments she bursts out and clears her nostril creating a water rainbow in the air. We make our way back to the pack but keep a little distance to find some food. After some time and struggle we were able to find some yummy bony fish to eat. It feels like there are a lot less fish that before. That is confusing for me to understand because years ago there was an abundance of fish in this same location. What happened? I know some of the residents are getting very hungry and resorting to hunting seal. Recently, I overheard some of my brothers and sisters talking about how their partner left solo to go find food out of desperation, possibly a seal or a shark. I am under the impression this hero will be back very soon to feed us some yummy seal or shark. I sure hope so.” 

(The “hero” they are waiting for is the orca in the animation)

The Average Orca Size Compared to The Average Human Male
When the orca matures their dorsal fin on top can reach the heights of six feet and their teeth can reach up to 22 centimetres (four inches). While the body of an orca whale can reach the length of 7 meters (about the length of four average human males) to 9 meters (the size of a foot fishing boat) and can weight up to six tons (about the weight of a medium sized fork lift) (Washington Nature Mapping Program, 2010, para. 1-6). With these large fins and sleek body, they can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour and are known to use that force to flip prey off ice sheets.
The Size of an Average New Born Orca
After a female orca hits sexual maturity (between 14 and 15 years old) and becomes pregnant, they will carry the baby for 17 months. The new-borns are around 2.1 meters to 2.6 meters (7 to 8.5 feet) long and weight between 136 and 181 kilograms (300 and 400 hundred pounds). They eat more than a mature whale eats (compared to body size) and nurse from the mother for 12 months (Washington Nature Mapping Program, 2010, para. 1-6).
The Orca Using Echolocation (Represented by a Swirl)
Orcas use a special tool called echolocation to determine what is in their environment. They do this by producing a click that sends a sound wave through the water and it will bounce back with certain frequencies. The whales take these frequencies and use it to determine what objects (or prey) are nearby. In this close-up of the orca whale, the echolocation is represented by a beautiful swirl.


Jenkins, D. (2015). Whale Spotter. Whale Behaviours. Page. 1. Retrieved from:

Orca Odyssey. (2020). What Are Orcas? Physical Description & classification, Page 1. Retrieved from:

Robeck, T & H, Leger, J, Nilson, E, & Dold, C. (2019). Aquatic Mammals. Evidence of Variable Agonistic Behavior in Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) Based on Age, Sex, and Ecotype. 430. DOI 10.1578/AM.45.4.2019.430

Sea Word. (2020). Animal Info. Habitat & Distribution. Page 1. Retrieved from:

Washington NatureMapping Program. (2010). NatureMapping Animal Facts. Orca. Page 1. Retrieved from: