The Orca (Orcinus orca) is a toothed whale that is actually in the dolphin group. Orcas have a diverse diet, although individual populations often eat particular types of prey. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals such as seals and dolphins. They have been known to attack baleen whale calves and even adult whales.
Orcas are apex predators, as there is no animal that preys on them. Orcas are considered a universal species, and can be found in each of the world’s oceans in a variety of environments, from Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas—Orcas are only absent from the Baltic and Black seas, and some areas of the Arctic Ocean.
A typical killer whale bears a black back, white chest and sides, and a white patch above the eye. Calves are born with a yellowish or orange tint, which fades to white. It has a heavy and strong body with a large dorsal fin up to 5.9ft tall. Behind the fin, it has a dark grey patch on the back. Antarctic killer whales may have pale gray to nearly white backs. Adult killer whales are very distinctive and are not usually confused with any other sea creature. When seen from a distance, juveniles can be confused with other cetacean species, such as the false killer whale or Risso’s dolphin.
The killer whale’s teeth are very strong and its jaws exert a powerful grip; the upper teeth fall into the gaps between the lower teeth when the mouth is closed. The front teeth are inclined slightly forward and outward, thus allowing the killer whale to withstand powerful jerking movements from its prey while the middle and back teeth hold it firmly in place.
Wild killer whales are not considered a threat to humans, but there have been cases of orcas in aquariums killing or injuring their handlers at marine theme parks. Killer whales feature strongly in the mythologies of indigenous cultures, with their reputation ranging from being the souls of humans to merciless killers.