Orca Whales aka Killer Whales

Did you know that you can spot orca whales in Ketchikan, Alaska?

What they eat

All of the salmon in the area make for a great food source for the orcas. However, salmon isn’t their only prey. They also eat herring, seals, squid, birds, other whales, walruses, and penguins. While orcas have many different types of prey, they don’t have anything that preys on them. The only thing that endangers orcas is the impact of humans on earth’s oceans.

Their family group

Orcas are a part of the Delphinidae (dolphin) family. They are actually the biggest animal in the Delphinidae family. They go by the name orca because their scientific name is Orcinus Orca. The word “orca” was a Roman word for “demon from hell.” Another common name for orcas is killer whales. That name came from the nickname “whale killer” that Spanish whalers gave orcas.

How they look

Orcas have a very distinct look. They’re all black and white. The males are a bit longer and heavier than the females, 32 ft versus 27 ft and 10 tons versus 7 tons, and their dorsal fins are larger. Baby orcas weigh about 350 lbs and are only 7 ft long at birth. Each orca has slight differences in their markings, making it easy for them to be identified and tracked by scientists. In addition, orcas have actual teeth which is unlike other whales.

Photo of two orca whales swimming near Ketchikan.

Where they can be spotted

Orcas can be found in almost any ocean in the world, especially in cold water. There are just certain places where they are more easily spotted and observed, including Ketchikan, AK. They are capable of traveling through the ocean up to 100 miles a day. However, they always stay together in groups of 50 or less called pods. The pods are made up of smaller groups known as subpods. The subpods are made up of even smaller groups called maternal groups. Orcas live in their subpod group for their whole lives. These groups serve as their families and hunting parties. Together, they use echolocation to navigate and find food.

When they can be spotted

Each summer orcas are in our waters every two to three days in June and a little less often in July. The Whale Spotter Facebook page is one great source of information regarding current sightings and includes fun photos and video clips.

How they behave

When you do spot them, they’ll be engaging in a few noticeable behaviors: breaching, slapping, and spyhopping. Breaching involves the orca jumping completely out of and above the water, ending in a big splash when it hits the water again. Slapping, otherwise known as lobtailing, is when the orca uses its tail to slap the surface of the water in order to stun its prey. Spyhopping is when the orca swims up to the surface of the water to peek its head straight into the sky. This lets the orca see a 360° view of its surroundings.

To socialize, orcas make noises called vocalizations. Scientists have observed that orcas have at least 62 different types of noises that they make underwater to communicate with each other. These sounds are mostly high-pitched shrieks. Scientists have also found that every orca has its own dialect determined by its place of origin.

If you would like to see the orcas, schedule a trip on one of our charters and you might get the chance to spot these magnificent creatures.

Other Sources:

“Facts About Orcas (Killer Whales)”. Whale and Dolphin Conservation. 24 March 2021. Retrieved 7 October 2021.

“Orca”. The National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved 7 October 2021.

“Killer Whale”. National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration. 16 September 2021. Retrieved 7 October 2021.