Subject: Orcas

Pieter Folkens (animalbytes@earthlink.net)
Fri, 28 Feb 1997 21:28:16 -0700

>My daughter, Sydney, is 7 years old and doing a report and poster for her
>science project for her 2nd grade class.  I told her we would work together
>on the Web to find some answers for her report.  My name is Tom.  We live in
>Seattle, Washington and GREATLY!! appreciate your time answering our
>questions.
>
>1. How long do Orca's live?
>2. How much do baby Orca's weigh?
>3. How long are Mommy Orca's in gestation?
>4. How do the babies get out of the Mommy's tummy? This question was actually
>
>    posed by my 4 year old!
>5. How do the babies eat?

First, let's get the critter straight. In your subject header you called
them "Orca Whales." The official common name is "Killer Whale" which is a
translation from the name Basque whalers called the animal -- Ballena
assasina, or literally whale killer. From this name Lineaus gave the animal
an official latin species name "Delphinus orca" which literally means
"demon dolphin." Later it was decided that the species belonged in a
separate genus (Orcinus, Orcinus orca). Nowadays some people like to take
the species name -- orca -- as the common name. But "orca whale" combines
the species name with the common name and is not generally accepted as
proper.

Now to your specific questions:

1) Dr. Mike Bigg (Canada) theorizied that female orcas could live up to 100
years and males to about 50. However, this has not been documented yet.
Maximums (measured or estimated) are 80 years for females and 50 to 60 for
males. A fully mature female may expect to live to about 60 years and males
about 45 (this is very general). However, you must consider that few wild
orcas get a chance to live that long. Natality  (survival past a year after
birth) is very low in the wild. Fewer than one in twenty survive past two
years old. In captivity several orcas are over 30 years old and are in good
health.

2) Orca calves are 208 to 276 cm long at birth and weigh on average about
180 kilograms (about 400 lbs.). Keep in mind that that is an average. Orcas
very in size by region just as humans do.

3) Gestation in orcas is around 15 to 17 months.

4) Orca calves, once they get too big for the mother's tummy, come out
through the birth canal which opens to the out side about two-thirds of the
way back on the underside of the body. If you look at the side of the orca
and see the white patch on the flank towards the back, the birth canal
opening is located about at the middle of that white patch, but on the
belly.

5) Orca calves are like all other mammal babies -- they drink (or eat)
milk. However, orca milk is very thick like cottage cheese or yogurt. They
calf will nuzzel the cow in a special place. This tickle will cause a
shiver in the cow which causes the milk to squirt out. The calf then gulps
up the wad of cheesy milk.

I hope this helps.

Cheers,

Pieter Folkens

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