> Question: I was just wandering how many killer whales are there still in the
> wild?? Also where are most of them located??
> Dear Chelsea,
> Orca whales, or killer whales, are medium sized whales which live in all
> oceans of the world. The exact population number is hard to predict. The only
> limitations to where they can be found is food (they canšt live in places
> where no food is available) and surface ice (they need to breathe, so ice
> canšt be covering too large of an area).
> Orcas are recognizable by the distinct white markings on their mostly glossy
> black bodies. A killer whale has an oval-shaped eye patch behind each eye.
> Its chin and chest are also white. This white patch extends into a white
> stripe down its belly to its tail. From an orcašs belly, the white stripe
> extends up into white patches on the lower part of the whalešs sides, between
> the tail and the dorsal fin (the fin on top of the whalešs back). There is
> one more identifying mark, and that is the whitish patch on the orcašs saddle,
> or the place right behind the dorsal fin. The color here varies between white
> and different shades of gray. Every orca whalešs markings are different, and
> some have less or more white than others. There are even a few orcas that are
> all black or all white!
> Male orcas grow up to between 27 feet and 33 feet long. Females are a little
> smaller. They are typically about 23 feet long, but the largest female orca
> found was over 28 feet long. One amazing thing about orcas are the sizes of
> their dorsal fins. Females have dorsal fins up to 3 and 1/3 feet tall, and
> males can have even larger fins, up to six feet!
> Even though orcas are not the largest whale, they are fierce predators. They
> usually eat fish, especially herring and salmon, but if they are hungry, they
> will eat almost anything including seabirds, sea turtles, seals and sea lions,
> and even other whales. When they do attack other, larger whales, it is often
> because they cannot find other food.
> Orcas often hunt in packs, much like wolves. A pack will surround their prey
> so that it canšt swim away, and then they take bites of it until they kill it
> or until they are full. If they attack another whale, they choose the weakest
> whale they find and attack its lips, tongue, and belly. However, the large
> whales have a defense. They have huge, powerful tails, and can hit their
> attackers very hard. One person reported seeing a killer whale thrown 30 feet
> away from its prey!
> Orcas usually travel in pods, or groups, of 5 to 30 whales. However,
> sometimes they are solitary, while other times pods as large as 100 whales or
> even more have been seen! The leader of the pod is usually a mature female.
> Most whales, when they grow up, stay in their motheršs pod until she dies.
> When she dies, one of the older females may take over the leadership of the
> pod, or the pod may split, with two or more mature females taking on the
> leaderships of the new pods.
> In these pods, we can often see different types of behavior among the killer
> whales. Some of them are also seen in other whales. Some of the behaviors
> that killer whales perform are:
> 1) Breaching: the whale jumps out of the water, headfirst, and lands on its
> belly or twists in the air to land on its side or back
> 2) Flipper slapping: when the orca slaps the surface of the water with its
> 3) Lobtailing: the orca sticks its tail out of the water and slaps it onto
> the surface
> 4) Spyhopping: in order to take a look around above water, the whale sticks
> its head and part of its chest out of the water. Sometimes several orcas will
> do this at the same time.
> 5) Speed-swimming: the whale travels fast and most of its body leaves the
> water when it surfaces to breathe. Orcas can travel as fast as 34 miles per
> 6) Logging: a whole pod faces the same direction
> 7) Dorsal fin slapping: The orca rolls onto its side and slaps the water with
> its dorsal fin
> Female orcas, or cows, are pregnant once every 3 to 8 years. A mother carries
> her baby, or calf, for 17 months before it is born. Most calves are born
> during the autumn. At birth, a newborn orca is 7 to 8 1/2 feet long and
> weighs about 390 pounds! Its white patches are not yet white--they are tan or
> yellow in color until it gets older. It nurses its motheršs milk (remember
> that whales are mammals and feed just like human babies do) for several
> months, and begins eating solid food at about five months old. By nine months
> old, a baby orca eats mostly solid food, though it may still nurse
> occasionally for a few months. At this point, the orca is eating an
> equivalent of 4 to 5 percent of its own body weight every single day. Imagine
> if you weighed 80 pounds--you would eat 3 to 4.5 pounds of food each day if
> you ate like an orca.
> Orcas are in danger from only one other animal--humans. Orcas are not usually
> hunted, and are not yet endangered, but they are sometimes killed by native
> peoples whose only food is meat from animals they can catch. They are also
> taken by commercial whalers occasionally if they are in the path of a hunt for
> another type of whale. More threatening, however, is pollution in the oceans.
> Chemicals from many different manufacturing and processing plants, and trash
> from companies and from everyonešs homes often end up in the oceans, where
> they can hurt all sealife. Chemical pollutants build up in the bodies of
> animals and are passed on to their offspring. Trash can be swallowed by
> sealife, or animals can get tangled up in it. So far, effects of chemical
> pollutants have not been seen in orcas, but they have been seen in other
> marine mammals and birds, including beluga whales and albatrosses. These
> pollutants cause birth defects in young animals, causing them to die before
> they are born or at a young age.
> To save the orcas and their environment from pollutants, you can help keep
> pollutants from getting into our oceans. You can use recycled, non-bleached
> paper for your schoolwork and for drawing, and you can help your parents
> recycle paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, and tin. In your area there may even
> be more things you can recycle. Use less water when you shower, brush your
> teeth, and wash clothes and dishes. This helps the environment by reducing
> the amount of energy used to move the water to your house. You can also write
> to your local politicians and ask them to vote for policies that will help the
> Last but not least, keep learning more about whales and the environment
> through organizations like Whale Conservation Institute and through your local
> school and public libraries! The more you learn, the more you can help other
> people learn about whales and the things that are threatening their survival.
> It is only with the help of special, interested and dedicated kids like you
> that we can all change the world.
> Bibliography (you can look for these books in your local libraries):
> 1) Carwardine, Mark. 1995. Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises. Dorling
> Kindersley, New York, 256 pp.
> 2) Cousteau, Jacques-Yves and Yves Paccalet. Jacques Cousteau Whales. Harry
> N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 280 pp.
> 3) Leatherwood, Stephen et al. 1988. Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises of the
> eastern north pacific and adjacent arctic waters. A guide to their
> identification. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 245 pp.
> 4) IUCN (The World Conservation Union). 1991. Dolphins, Porpoises, and Whales
> of the World. The IUCN Red Data Book. Cambridge, U.K., 429 pp.
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