Orcinus orca - (Linnaeus, 1758)
Killer Whale
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Orcinus orca (Linnaeus, 1758) (TSN 180469)
French Common Names: épaulard
Spanish Common Names: Orca, Ballena Asesina
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.105428
Element Code: AMAGE07010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Mammals - Whales and Dolphins
Image 10737

© Dick Cannings

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Mammalia Cetacea Delphinidae Orcinus
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder (editors). 1993. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Second edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. xviii + 1206 pp. Available online at: http://www.nmnh.si.edu/msw/.
Concept Reference Code: B93WIL01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Orcinus orca
Taxonomic Comments: Two forms of the killer whale occur in the coastal waters of North America from Washington to Alaska. The two groups, generally refered to as "transient" and "resident," differ in foraging behavior, habitat use, group dynamics, dorsal fin shape, pigmentation patterns, and mtDNA; apparently there is little or no gene flow between the two groups (see references in Baird et al. 1992). A third group consists of "offshore" killer whales.

Orcinus nanus and O. glacialis were described from antarctic waters in the early 1980s but, because of weak supporting evidence, these nominal species have not been accepted as valid by most authorities (O. nanus is a nomen nudum). Mead and Brownell (in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005) and Jones et al. (1992) regarded Orcinus as monotypic.
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G4G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 04Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 15Nov1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Cosmopolitan in oceans; abundance and trends are not well known.
Nation: United States
National Status: N4 (05Sep1996)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N4 (31Dec2011)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Alaska (S4), California (SNR), Florida (SNR), Maine (SNR), Maryland (SNA), Massachusetts (S1), New York (SNRN), North Carolina (SNA), Oregon (SNA), South Carolina (SNR), Texas (S1), Washington (S1S2)
Canada British Columbia (S3), Labrador (SNR), Nunavut (SNR), Quebec (S3)

Other Statuses

Implied Status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): PS:LE
Comments on USESA: The Southern Resident killer whale Distinct Population Segment (DPS) was listed as endangered under the ESA in 2005. NMFS (Federal Register, 5 August 2013) found delisting the southern resident DPS to not be warranted.

In a 90-day petitin finding to include the Orcinus orca known as Lolita in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of the Southern Resident killer whales, NMFS (2013) found that the petitioned action may be warranted. NMFS (2014, 2015) have determined that captive members of the Southern Resident killer whale population, including Lolita, should be included in the listed Southern Resident killer whale DPS. Lolita is a female killer whale, captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, who resides at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida.

Implied Status under the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC):PS
IUCN Red List Category: DD - Data deficient
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix II

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Throughout the world's oceans and seas, from high latitudes to the equator; most common in cooler coastal waters of both hemispheres, with the greatest abundance within 800 km from continental coasts.

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: No exact figures.

Population Size Comments: See IUCN (1991) for population estimates for several localized areas.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Population abundance; migratory behavior information.

Protection Needs: Worldwide ban on hunting.

Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Throughout the world's oceans and seas, from high latitudes to the equator; most common in cooler coastal waters of both hemispheres, with the greatest abundance within 800 km from continental coasts.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, CA, FL, MA, MD, ME, NC, NY, OR, SC, TX, WA
Canada BC, LB, NU, QC

Range Map
No map available.

Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A large cetacean.
Reproduction Comments: Mating occurs late fall to midwinter in the northeastern Atlantic. Gestation lasts about 17 months (IUCN 1991). Litter size is 1. Calf may be dependent for at least 2 years, closely associated with mother for much of juvenile period. Calving interval has been estimated at 3-8 years (higher estimates may be more typical). Sexually mature at 10-18 years. Females become reproductively senescent at 35-45 years. Estimated maximum age 80-90 years in females, 50-60 years in males.
Ecology Comments: Travels in well-defined social groups (pods), usually of fewer than 40 (averaging less than 10); sometimes forms aggregations exceeding 100. Studies in Puget Sound indicate strong social bonds and stable group structure. Typical pod contains mature females and their young (1-3 juveniles per female) and variable proportions of of males and/or post-reproductive females.
Habitat Type: Marine
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Migratory in some regions, nonmigratory in other regions. Migrations apparently are related to movements of prey species.

The longest known movement involved three individuals photographed in Glacier Bay, Alaska, on 6 August 1989, and subsequently observed attacking gray whales in Monterey Bay, California, on 2 May 1992 (Goley and Straley 1994); whether this movement was transitory or migratory is unknown.

Marine Habitat(s): Near shore, Pelagic
Estuarine Habitat(s): Bay/sound
Habitat Comments: Mainly in coastal waters, but may occur anywhere in all oceans and major seas at any time of year.
Adult Food Habits: Carnivore, Piscivore
Immature Food Habits: Carnivore, Piscivore
Food Comments: Opportunistic; diet differs seasonally and geographically. Eats marine mammals (seals, dolphins, occasionally baleen whales), birds, fishes, and squid. May hunt cooperatively. Off Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska, "transients" feed mainly on pinnipeds, "residents" feed primarily on salmon (Baird et al. 1992).
Adult Phenology: Circadian
Immature Phenology: Circadian
Phenology Comments: Active day and night.
Length: 9100 centimeters
Economic Attributes
Economic Comments: Current primary use: public display in marine aquaria, where generally long-lived and popular. Taken in local cetacean fisheries in various parts of the range; used for human food, animal food, and as source of oil (IUCN 1991). In some areas, regarded by fishermen as a nuisance due to destruction of fishes and fishing gear (see examples in IUCN 1991).
Management Summary
Biological Research Needs: Worldwide taxonomic review to determine subspecific status.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: An area that is, or was, occupied by a recurring population. Minimally, at least two and preferably several years of observation should be used to reliably identify significant, recurrent foraging concentrations, i. e. those occupied by feeding whales more than 10 days per year. In most cases, occurrences should not be extensive areas, but rather portions of such areas that stand out as strongly meeting the occurrence criteria. Year-to-year changes in prey distribution may mean that some key sites are not be occupied every year; however, occurrences should still be delineated where data indicates that the sites are important over the longer term.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 25 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 25 km
Separation Justification: Killer Whales can travel significant distances daily. However, occurrences are defined primarily on the basis of areas predictably supporting concentrations of prey and feeding whales, rather than on the basis of distinct whale populations or specific feeding groups. Separation distance similarly refers to areas of concentrated foraging; arbitrarily set to 25 kilometers in order to delineate occurrences that are manageable for conservation of prey resource.
Date: 06Mar2002
Author: Cannings, S.
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 30Jun1988
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Jennings, R.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 30Dec1994
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

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