It's apex predator time!
Let's talk about the Orca! (I'm actually really excited because a HUGE pod was seen where I live and I'm hoping and praying I get to see them! okay maybe it isn’t that good because they do threaten the local sea lion population but still.
Yup, the Killer Whales that are not even remotely whales.
Orcas are a type of toothed whales, which describes a parvorder of cetaceans that, well, have teeth, which includes dolphins and porpoises and actual whales like sperm whales.
But they are also actually part of the oceanic doplhin family, and the last species left of their genus, Orcinus
(a thing about me is that I am also obsessed with Paleobiology. I don't want to make these too long, but I might come back to the Orcinus genus to talk more about the two species of ancestral Orcas and the one set of fossilized bones no one can agree upon).
These absolute sea bullies are world-famous because of their colour palette: the shocking black and white that makes them unmissable and unmistakeable.
Believe it or not, these colours are actually pretty handy camouflage. They're light on the bottom and dark on top, which helps them blend in to their surrounding to catch prey that are looking upwards from the dark depths and prey that are closer to the lighter surface. It's also useful because they're big boys, and the contrast between black and white allows parts of their body to blend in with the dark sea, which makes them look smaller and less threatening to unsuspecting victims.
Something cool about them is that they are known as a cosmopolitan species (the opposite to an endemic species), due to the fact that they swim pretty much everywhere, from the frozen shores of Antartica to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
With no natural predators and a wide array of feeding choices including fish, sea lions, other dolphins and even species of baleen whales (which are the BIG ASS WHALES, I'm talking of the BLUE variety), they are, indeed, apex predators.
These things are also crazy smart.
They are known for their social behaviour, language of clicks and whistles, and strategic hunting techniques.
They can be seen herding fish into tight groups and then SLAPPING them unconcious with their tails to get a nice, big bite, or also working in groups to topple prey off rocks or ice. Another thing they've been seen doing is pretending to be beached ashore so that they can catch a sea lion off-guard.
It has also been noted that they'll oftentimes play with their food, tossing them between wach other and allowing for brief chase.
They're not named after Orcus, the Roman god of the dead, for nothing, vicious little freaks.
Now lets do a rapid fire list of random Orca facts!
- They're able to rest one side of their brain at a time when sleeping, so that they're never caught off-guard.
- Their genus name, Orcinus, translates to "of the kingdom of the dead".
- Males and females have different patterns of black and white skin — a female orca will have a white, oval-shaped genital patch with three black spots, whislt a male orca will have a genital patch that is more elongated and with a single black slit. You can also tell them apart by looking at their dorsal fins: the males' are larger and longer than the females´.
- They have great eyesight.
- Not enough data exist to actually say if the Orca is an endangered species, a prevalent theory being that the current populations might actually be more than one species. However, be so or not, their populations have been decreasing.