Subject: Killer whales' diets and habitats

Tokitae (
Wed, 7 Jan 1998 20:43:57 -0500 (EST)

My name is Clinton.  I'm a student at Fort Campbell.  What is a killer whale's
diet?  Are they living well in their habitats? 

Thank you!

This is an interesting question Clinton, because there is no simple answer.
If you look at all the killer whales in the world, they will eat almost
anything they can catch, and there isn't anything they can't catch,
including the biggest of the whales and sharks and right down to small
herring. They also eat seals, sea lions, squid, and sometimes birds and even
deer and moose if they happen to take a swim. Just about the only thing
killer whales will not eat is humans, which is a bit mysterious. What is
really interesting is that each different community of orcas specializes in
a particular diet, like salmon or seals. In the Pacific Northwest there are
two very distinct communities of orcas that live side by side, called
transients and residents. The residents live in large groups of 20 to 50 or
more and eat only salmon, while the transients travel in groups of 3 to 5
and attack seals and sea lions, and have never been known to eat fish. Their
paths cross all the time, but they have never been seen interacting, except
for one time when the two groups fought for a few minutes (but nobody got
badly hurt).

Your second question depends somewhat on the answer to the first question.
If there is plenty of food around the orcas will probably do just fine, as
long as the food isn't polluted. In the Pacific Northwest, for example,
there are lots of seals and sea lions these days, but the populations of
salmon are depleted because of  loss of spawning habitat from logging,
damming, agriculture, building and pollution, and there have been too many
fish caught as well. So far the orcas seem to be doing OK, and recently an
all-out campaign to bring back healthy stocks of wild salmon has begun, so
maybe there will continue to be enough for the orcas to eat. In general
though, if we don't take care of ocean ecosystems, the whales will suffer
and so will we.

Howard Garrett
Lolita Project