7 Different Types of Orcas

Different Types of Orcas
Photo by Leslie Driskill

Orcas are marine mammals with intricate social hierarchies, profound emotional ties, and astounding intelligence.

All different types of orcas are also formidable predators that consume a wide range of fish and other marine mammals as food.

Killer whales or orcas are classified into ten different ecotypes, each of which has its own unique diet, habitat, and even culture.

Killer whales even communicate with one another using their unique language. The waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest are home to three different ecotypes of this species.

Orcas are the largest member of the family Delphinidae (also known as dolphins), although people sometimes refer to them as killer whales.

There are 38 distinct species that belong to this family, some of which include bottlenose dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and pilot whales.

Members of the family Delphinidae have teeth shaped like cones, use echolocation to locate prey and communicate, and live in a variety of ocean settings.

1. Resident Orcas

The first mention on our list of different types of orcas is the resident orca.

Marine experts call them resident orcas because they often have a narrow home range concentrated on places with large fish populations, as their diet consists primarily of fish.

The Southern and Northern orcas are two distinct communities of resident orcas in opposite parts of the North Pacific.

Salmon is nearly the only type of fish different types of orcas consume, whereas the different types of orcas living along the coastlines of Russia and Japan tend to choose mackerel and salmon.

On the other hand, it is not news that locals in Alaska consume a variety of fish species, including salmon, halibut, and cod.

You can spot the Northern Residents of the Salish Sea in the waters off Vancouver Island and up to southeast Alaska, whereas you are more likely to see the Southern Residents of the Salish Sea in greater Puget Sound.

These locals, especially the Southern Residents, are among the orcas that have received the most attention from researchers.

Offspring of resident orcas live with their mothers for the entirety of their lives and grow up in family groups that are part of larger communities.

Matrilines and pods structure these family groups. These groups are distinguishable from one another both genetically and acoustically, and each possesses characteristics that are exclusive to their group, such as the Northern Residents’ habit of rubbing themselves on the sand on the beach.

2. Southern Resident Killer Whales

If you’ve lived in western Washington in recent decades, you’ve probably heard of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, who spend several months of the year in Puget Sound.

Unfortunately, these orcas suffered a significant population decline in the 1970s, when it was usual for individuals to capture some of these whales for marine parks.

Because orcas are highly gregarious and sensitive, the method of catching and then removing them from their pod and habitat was exceedingly upsetting for all southern inhabitants.

They also spend their entire lives with their families, so separating them is very traumatic.

The population of resident orcas is falling due to several factors. This is especially true for the Salish Sea’s Southern Resident Killer Whales, as the area’s dwindling salmon abundance means these orcas are losing their principal food supply.

In addition to discussing the ethical implications of keeping captive orcas in marine parks, the video’ Blackfish’ examines the history of capturing orcas for parks off the coast of Washington.

Sound disruption is another concern to killer whales, as these predators, like other different types of orcas, use echolocation for hunting and communicating.

The orcas may have difficulty hearing due to the loud sounds of boats, ferries, and ships. Ship strikes are also a source of fear for orcas for apparent reasons.

3. Bigg’s Orcas

The Bigg’s, or transient orcas, are among the different types of orcas found in the North Pacific.

These are orcas that feed on mammals, and similar to Residents, distinct populations of Bigg’s orcas specialize in different types of prey, such as harbor seals, minke whales, or gray whale calves.

They congregate in relatively tiny groups and move around regularly throughout their wide home ranges, extending from Southern California to the Arctic Circle.

Bigg’s orcas live in smaller groups, but they create tight ties with their relatives, and some of their kids stay with their mothers for the rest of their lives. Bigg’s orcas are also very family-oriented.

These orcas are distinct from the resident orcas in many ways, including the size of their pods, their hunting methods, and their vocalizations.

Because their prey can hear them, they don’t make as much noise while they hunt and tend to dwell in matriarchal communities that are matriarchal but are smaller.

Orcas of the genus Biggs are known to be quite stealthy when hunting to sneak up on their prey.

4. Offshore Orcas

The elusive offshore orcas are the third ecotype of different types of orcas in the North Pacific.

Still, very little is known about them because they dwell far from land, primarily over the outer continental shelf, and are a rare sight.

It is currently unknown what their social structure is like or what kind of prey they like, even though their vast range extends from Southern California to the Bering Sea.

Most of the time, they move in big groups consisting of more than 50 individuals, and they usually prey on fish and sharks.

The teeth of orcas that live offshore are frequently worn down, which suggests that they consume foods with a rough skin texture (like sharks).

They are the smallest of the three ecotypes in the North Pacific, and even though all three ecotypes are genetically unique, they are closer to Residents than Bigg’s orcas.

5. Pack Ice Orcas

Pack Orcas that live in the ice hunt for seals in the pack ice found all around the Antarctic continent.

They are famous for their cooperative wave-washing hunting style, in which they use their bodies and tails to produce waves to wash seals off of ice floes, which they then hunt.

Because of the diatoms, a type of algae that live on their skin, Pack ice orcas can have a brownish or yellowish appearance, and they have a lighter color cape.

6. Ross Sea Orca

Male orcas in the Ross Sea can grow about six meters (20 feet) long. They have a diatom coating that gives them a yellowish tinge, and, like other Antarctic orcas, they have a grey and white coloring.

Ross Sea orcas have a darker eye patch and cape than the rest of their body, and their cape is darker than the rest of their body. Additionally, their eye patch is significantly angled.

The Ross Sea orcas typically feed on Antarctic toothfish, although it is still unclear whether orcas just consume fish as their primary source of nutrition. These orcas move in the heavy pack of ice found off the coast of Eastern Antarctica.

7. Subantarctic Orcas

The subantarctic orcas are the last mentioned on our list of different types of orcas. The stranding of a large number of whales in New Zealand in the 1950s led to the discovery of these orcas.

However, this was a discovery made in retrospect; at the time, people believed they were a mutant subspecies of the orca species found all over the planet.

Although they have the same black-and-white coloring and saddle patch patterns as other orcas, these orcas have shorter dorsal fins, rounder heads, and the smallest eye patches of any ecotype, which gives them a highly distinctive appearance.

Since then, there have only been a few sightings of this extremely unusual ecotype, but it was sufficient for researchers to determine that they represent a distinct ecotype and not just a mutation.

It is currently unknown whether or not they are fish specialists, similar to the orcas that live in the Ross Sea, despite the fact that marine experts have observed them eating Patagonian toothfish.

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