A Celebration of Whales and Other Marine Life
The Killer Whale, also known as the Orcinus Orca, is the largest dolphin of the mammalian whale family. Adult males can reach 9.8m in length, 9,000-10,000 kg in weight, and have a dorsal fin height of 1.7m. Female orcas are smaller, only reaching 8.5m in length, weigh 6,500-7,500kg, and have a dorsal fin height of 1m. The shape of the dorsal fin and the markings on the gray "saddle-patch" area behind the fin of each killer whale is unique and remains consistently identifiable over time. This identifiable feature was discovered by Michael Bigg, a pioneer of killer whale research.
The orca is an extremely fast swimmer, exceeding speeds of 45km/hr. Like all other whales, orcas are propelled by their powerful tails broad fluke which, unlike fish tail fins, move up and down rather than side to side.
Orcas have well-developed eyesight both above and below the water. Above water behaviours include breaching (jumping out of water), tail slapping, dorsal fin slapping, dolphin leaping and spyhopping (raising head to view aerial surrounding). These behaviours are most likely displays of social excitement, dominance or aggression.
In BC, there are three distinctly and genetically different populations of orcas with highly specialized feeding habits. They are residents, transients, and offshore. Resident orcas feed primarily on salmon and travel in pods of six to fifty whales. Transient orcas feed on marine mammals including seals, whales and sea birds, and travel in small groups of one to five whales. Offshore orcas live in the open ocean, travel in pods, and eat only fish. Each population differs in behaviour including eating habits, social organization, dialect sounds and appearance of dorsal fins.
Approximately 500 orcas inhabit BC waters. There are 19 resident pods of orcas totaling about 300 resident whales and 200 transient whales. Resident orcas are commonly seen from June through November in Johnstone Straight near the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve on the BC coast. A resident pod may travel up to 800km, whereas the transients range extends beyond to BC Coast, up to 1450km along the coast from Alaska to California. Transients are found on the coast year-round, but are not common or predictable at any time. No reliable world population estimate exists for killer whales.
The social bonds of killer whales are considered among the strongest of any mammalian species, stronger even than those of human societies. In 1982, Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve was established. It was the first killer whale sanctuary in the world to protect whales during periods of resting, rubbing and socializing.
Other marine mammals in the area include the Pacific White-sided Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale, and Humpback Whale. Other marine life include Giant Pacific Octopus, colorful spongues, crimson anemones, hydrocorals, nudibranchs, starfish and sculpins.