Killer whale sightings drop

Thanks once again to the lovely Kimberly at Sub-antarctic Science for this news bulletin.

Scientists monitoring penguins in Antarctica have also been keeping track of killer whales swimming by over the last decade.  They found that the number of sightings steadily decreased–from 120 to 26.  The researchers will report on this statistically significant decline in an upcoming issue of Aquatic Mammals that will be published online next week.  The loss may be due to fishing boats going after the same large toothfish (I wrote an article about them here.)  that the whales eat, forcing them to extend their hunting territory.  The extra energy they expend may result in fewer offspring being born.

Five fast facts about killer whales or orcas as they are also called:

1. Their scientific name, Orcinus orca, comes from the mythical Orcus — the Roman god of death and the underworld.

2. They grow up to 9.75 meters long and weigh up to 5,443 kilograms. That’s roughly 600 times the size of a grown man.

3. Orcas mature around the age of 15, and males can live to 50 or 60 years old, though 30 is more commonplace.

4. In April, 2012 the BBC reported the sighting of an all-white, possibly albino killer whale off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia.  It had the full two-metre-high dorsal fin of a mature male, which makes it the first white adult orca seen in the wild.

5. Next to humans, orcas are the most widely distributed mammal.  Orcas inhabit all the oceans of the world.


  1. Orcas are one of those creatures which are both awesome and terrifying. Sad to see their numbers are declining, but very interesting post!

  2. Susan Hamel · ·

    Sailors gave them the name “whale killers,” and that eventually got turned around to killer whales! But they really aren’t that big a threat to humans.

  3. Really interesting post, the statistical decline in sightings tells its own story.

  4. Oh i never knew that! True, but i wouldnt like to be a seal or another whale when there are hungry orcas around!

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