Killer whale

(Orcinus orca)




Facts about this animal

Killer whales, or orcas, are easily recognised due to their striking black and white colouration: The upper side and pectoral flippers are black, except for the grey area, known as the saddle, located just behind the dorsal fin and a large, conspicuous white spot just above and slightly behind each eye. The belly, lower jaw, and undersides of the tail flukes are mostly white. The undersides of the tail flukes are fringed with black.


Statistically, there is a clear sexual dimorphism: Males have an average length of 5.8 to 6.7 m and usually weigh between 3'600 and 5'500 kg. The largest male ever recorded was 9.8 m long and weighed 10 tons. Females average 4.9 to 5.8 m in length and 1'300 to 3'600 kg in weight. The largest female recorded was 8.5 m and weighed 7.5 tons.


Orcas have 10 to 12 large conical teeth on each side of each jaw, that curve toward the throat.


The tail has two lobes, which are called flukes. The dorsal fin is pointed (hence the German name “Schwertwal”) and very large (up to 1.8 m). Both flukes and dorsal fin consist of dense, fibrous connective tissue, with no bones or cartilage. The flippers are transformed forelegs. They are are broad and paddle-shaped. Dorsal fin and flippers are much larger in males than in females.


After a pregnancy of about 17 months a single calf is born although, very rarely, births of twins have been reported. At birth, orcas are 2.1 to 2.6 m long and weigh between 136 and 181 kg.

Did you know?
that of the 46 orcas living in dolphinaria on December 31, 2006, no less than 29 have been born in human care? Only 17 originated from the wild and the last of these was captured in 1997. that the oldest orcas in a dolphinarium are a 40 years old female at SeaWorld California captured in 1969, and a 40 years old female at Miami Seaquarium captured in 1970? that the first orca born in a dolphinarium and still alive is the female "Kalina" born in 1985 at SeaWorld Florida, and that she became mother in 1993?


Name (Scientific) Orcinus orca
Name (English) Killer whale
Name (French) Orque, Epaulard
Name (German) Schwertwal
Name (Spanish) Orca
Local names Danish: Spækhugger
Dutch: Zwaardwalvis
Finnish: Miekkavalas
Icelandic: Háhyrningur
Italian: Orca
Norwegian: Spekhogger
Polish: Orka
Portuguese: Baleia assassina
Swedish: Späckhuggare
CITES Status Appendix II
CMS Status Appendix II



Photo Copyright by
Jamie Ramos



Range Fairly abundant and widespread on a global scale
Habitat Open and shallow sea
Wild population Minimum worldwide abundance estimate of about 50,000 killer whales (Red List IUCN 2011)
Zoo population 5 reported to ISIS (2006). The total number known to be kept in human care was 46 at the end of 2006.

In the Zoo

Killer whale


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 55 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
© Gunther Nogge, Patagonien, Argentinien

Why do zoos keep this animal

Cetacean Sensation—The Value of Whales and Dolphins at Zoological Parks


Marine life parks have learned a great deal about whales and dolphins from ongoing research programmes. In the protected environment of a marine life park, scientists can examine aspects of cetacean biology that are difficult or impossible to study in the wild. Breeding and cutting edge artificial insemination programmes have dramatically increased our understanding of cetacean reproduction. Such studies may one day help to conserve species facing extinction such as Amazon River dolphins.


But that’s only part of the story. Through educational programmes and guest visitation, millions of children and adults have been given the rare opportunity to experience whales and dolphins in a unique way. There is an old African saying that goes "You will love with your heart what you see with your eyes." Marine life parks educate millions of people every year on the threats whales and dolphins face. Through zoological facilities, visitors have a chance to see, touch and view whales and dolphins. This connection bonds humans to these animals and inspires stewardship far more than simply seeing them in a book or on TV.


Of course the killer whale is also an excellent ambassador for its ecosystem and may serve as a flagship species for awareness campaigns dealing with threats to the marine environment such as Deadline - Das Meer will leben !), a joint effort of YaquPacha and WAZA.