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Killer Whale (Orcinus orca)

Killer whales
Killer whales (Photo: NOAA NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center)

Killer whales occur in all oceans of the world but are more abundant in temperate and colder waters within 800 km (500 mi) of coasts. In the North Pacific, killer whales are divided into three non-associating forms or ecotypes referred to as: resident, transient, and, offshore. Resident and transient forms show distinctive differences in genetic composition, morphology, diet, ecology, distribution, movement patterns, and social structure. The offshore form is less well described, but appears to be more closely related to the resident form than to the transient form. One of the more notable differences among these forms is their diet.

All killer whales are considered top-level predators, but the diet of resident killer whales appears to be composed of fish, whereas the transient form appears to prey primarily on marine mammals. The diet of the offshore form has not been characterized but is assumed to be fish.

Range and Habitat:

Found worldwide in all oceans

Status under Law:

Conservation issues:

Interactions with commercial fishing gear, predation on commercially valuable fish stocks, whale watching, genetic diversity, small social units, predation on sea otters and other depleted marine mammals

Physical characteristics:

At Birth At Maturity
Length 2.23-2.6 m
7.9-9 m
Weight About 160 kg
(350 lb)
3,800-5,600 kg
(8,400-12,000 lb)


50-90 years

Annual Report:

For more information, see the Killer Whale section from the 2002 Annual Report

Download a copy: PDF (201 KB)

Commission Letters:

To view Commission letters concerning Killer Whales choose a date below

March 31, 2003

Additional Links:

National Marine Fisheries Service Stock Assessment Reports

Alaska Department of Fish & Game - Orca

National Marine Fisheries Service - Whales in Alaskan Waters


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