INTRODUCTIONÂ â Once feared by man, killer whales have been intensively studied and, while experts recommend caution in dealing with any large marine mammal, they appear to tolerate curious humans and their boats.
In recentÂ years, killer whales have been held in captivity for research and display purposes and this practice has lead to considerable debate and conflict.
Nevertheless, these whales have entertained and fascinated hundreds of thousands of visitors and have raised interest and concern regarding the conservation of whales and other species, as well as the environmental health of the ocean.
Seafarers and whalers once referred to killer whales as âwolves of the seaâ. Indeed, these large, swift whales are so intelligent that they may well be the ultimate ocean predator. Working in co-operative packs or pods, they hunt seals, porpoise and even large baleen whales. The literature contains many thrilling accounts of attacks, including one in which a killer whale attacked a large bowhead and ââ¦clung with the tenacity of a bull-dog to his mouth, andÂ gradually caused him to bleed to death.â
They eat almost anything that swims â¦ fish, squid, seals, ducks, turtles, porpoise and whales.
Killer Whales form strong social bonds and family group structures. Pods even have their own dialect which is so distinct that some researchers can recognize specific groups by their characteristic sounds.
RANGEÂ â Killers occur in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. They are commonly encountered along theÂ Pacific coast of North America, particularly in
places like the Strait of Juan de Fuca where the geography of theÂ area brings them in close contact with man. TheyÂ are not commonly seen along the Atlantic coast. The gray areaÂ in the map shows the North American distribution.
STATUSÂ â The killer whale is an important totem in west coast Indian societies and has appeared in their art forÂ
centuries. It was never a serious object of the whalers.Â However, it was considered to be a competitor to the west coast fur seal industry at the turn of the century and was probably killed whenever possible.Â
DISTINGUISHING FEATURESÂ â A spectacular black and white whale. Adults rangeÂ between 20 and 30 feet long and may weigh up to 6 tons. They have large paddle-shaped flippers and are distinguished by an erect dorsal fin which may reach a height of 6 feet in large males. The glossy black of the back forms a striking contrast with the pure white belly and distinctive eye patch. A greyish âsaddle patchâ occurs behind the dorsal fin. They have 10 to 13 pairs of large teeth.
IMAGESÂ â The following drawings paintings and photographs are from Art MacKayâs resource files. The originals are available for purchase.