Imagine that you are in a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is in the middle of September, on one of the coolest days of autumn. While you are checking your navigational charts, you hear something. As you turn around you see a cloud of spray. Just then you see what looks to be a large, black dorsal fin slice through the water. Your mind and heart beat began to race as you look around. Just then you hear a lot of clicks and whistles. Then you hear a whistle right below you. You slowly look down and you see a…killer whale.
There is not just one killer whale but a whole pod of killer whales. A pod is a group of closely related whales. A pod is formed when a female killer whale gives birth to a baby. Which means that the oldest female is the leader because all the other members are her children and her children’s children. A pod is made up of 4 to 40 killer whales.
Another pod is called a super pod. The super pod can have up to 150 killer whales in it. The pods are spread out and swim at a steady pace. The super pods usually split up into smaller groups of closely related pods or clans. Killer whales stay in a pod to protect the young and to help with hunting. These pods usually develop their own languages.
The language of all killer whales uses clicks and whistles. One pod’s dialect can be different from the next pod’s dialect. This form of speech is very important because it is the way killer whales communicate. Say that you and a friend sat across the room from each other. You would not be able to get their attention without using your voice. You see, the clicks and whistles are almost the same as the words in human speech. Both are used for communicating.
Scientists know a little about what the killer whales’ dialect is used for. Scientists think that their dialect is used for communicating to the other members of the pod. When killer whales hunt, they use this skill and others like echolocation. Echolocation is the way animals find food without using their eyes. A killer whale uses a high frequency sound wave that bounces off of their prey. After the sound wave bounce off of something, it returns to the killer whale. The length of time it takes for the sound wave to return tells the killer where its food is located. Communicating helps killer whales hunt because they can communicate with each other to find where the food is. This is a very important skill to the killer whales.
Without good hunting skills, the pod would not survive. Killer whales sometimes hunt by themselves to get their own food. The newborn babies are taught everything they need to know about hunting as a member of the pod.
Killer whales eat salmon, cod, squid, birds, penguins, sea turtles, seals, and porpoises. What they eat depends on what is in their area and what is available. Killer whales hunt using stealth. Killer whales sneek up on their prey then they attack, the prey is not expecting them.
The killer whale can break thin Antarctic ice. This way the killer whales get their food, which can be penguins and seals. Seals and penguins live on ice floes, which offer little protection against killer whales.
Also a pod of killer whales can take down a giant baleen whale. Killer whales can move through the water without making a noise and can out swim the larger whales. They bite the whale which becomes weak and tired from the loss of blood, so the whale dies.
What a Killer Whale Looks Like
The killer whales are always black and white. You can tell the female and male whales apart very easily. A male has a bigger dorsal fin than a female killer whale. A dorsal fin is the fin that is at the top of the killer whale. An adult male can grow up to 23 ft. and weigh up to 4-5000 kilograms. The female can grow to 21 ft. and weigh up to 2.5-3000 kilograms. Killer whales have 20 or more cone shaped teeth. These teeth help hold and kill their food.
A killer whale mom gives birth to one baby underwater. A newborn baby is about 8 ft long (2.4 meters) and weighs from 300 to 400 pounds. Calf is another name for the baby killer whale.
Calves are sometimes yellow or cream colored on the baby’s lighter spot. When a killer whale is born it knows how to swim, but they are not as strong as the older killer whales.
We can protect the killer whales by not polluting the water. Killer whales are dying everyday. People are not killing them, but a disease called Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) is. PCBs is a disease that causes the immune system to weaken, skin disease, liver damage, nervous disorders, and sometimes cancer. A lot of killer whales are dying from PCBs each day. We can protect them by not dumping salmon fat that has been exposed to PCB infected waters in Asia.
We can help the killer whales by learning all we can about them. The more we learn about them, the better we can help and protect them. As a top predator, the killer whales fill a spot in nature by eating the weak, old, and sick sea creatures.
Arnold, Caroline. Killer Whales. New York: Morrow Junior Books,1994.
Blue Voice.org. Preserving the Our Oceans, Saving Dolphins, Protecting the Environment <www.bluevoice.org/features/features.html>
Stonehouse, Bernard. A Visual Introduction to Whales Dolphins and Porpoises. New York City: Checkmark Books, 1998.
Strachan, Elizabeth. A Closer Look at Whales and Dolphins. New York City: Gloucester Press, 1985.