How much do you know about the dreadful “killer whale,” also known as the orca? You need to brush up on your knowledge if you still think of this large marine animal as a whale! We weren’t prepared for how fascinating these beautiful black-and-white animals would be.
For your upcoming sea voyage, are you prepared to hone your orca knowledge? Continue reading to learn some amazing facts about the amazing orcas. We know all about how long orcas live, along with other fascinating details you might not have known.
Quick Crash Course on Orcas
An example of a marine animal is an orca. Due to their “killer whale” moniker, they are occasionally mistaken for whales. Orcas are actually considered to be a species of dolphin, though, did you know that? They are the biggest dolphins in the family, in fact! In ancient times, mariners reported seeing orcas hunting larger whales and called them “killer whales” as a result.
Every ocean on the planet may contain orcas. From the Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, from Japan’s coastal waters to the Atlantic Ocean, and from the Arctic seas to Antarctica, you can find them there. Calculating the exact global population is difficult due to their erratic migration patterns and remarkably wide geographic distribution. Over 50,000 orcas are thought to exist.
How Long Do Orcas Live?
The lifespan of an orca in the wild ranges from 30 to 50 years. Their average lifespan in captivity is 10 to 45 years. Although this is subject to scientific debate, it is generally accepted that orcas kept in captivity have shorter lifespans than those found in the wild.
The life expectancy of orcas varies depending on gender. The average lifespan of a wild female orca is 50 to 80 years. Male wild animals have a maximum lifespan of about 60 years and an average lifespan of 29 years.
Female longevity, according to some researchers, has surpassed most predictions. Although a biopsy sample showed that Orca Granny (J2) was between 65 and 80 years old, some experts believed that she may have been as old as 105 at the time of her passing.
Every winter off the Australian coast of New South Wales, a male named Old Tom was spotted between the 1840s and the 1930s. His age was estimated to be 90. Despite the fact that this method of estimating age is now believed to be unreliable for older animals, his teeth revealed that he passed away at the age of 35.
In the Pacific Northwest, one male orca named J1 was believed to be 59 years old when he passed away in 2010.
Now that we have a better idea of the orca lifespan, let’s examine how they grow from young to adult orcas.
The Average Orca Life Cycle
The orca life cycle is distinctive in many ways. To comprehend how these magnificent creatures reproduce, let’s examine each stage in greater detail.
One of the longest gestations of any mammal, killer whale pregnancies last 18 months. There is no statistical support for the idea that birth seasons exist because babies are born all year long.
Many of the orcas’ pregnancies unfortunately don’t end in birth because of the high risk of miscarriage and newborn death.
Calves are the name for newborn orca calves. At birth, calves weigh about 400 pounds and are about 8 feet long. Only one calf at a time is born by each orca female. In the initial days following birth, the dorsal fin and tail flukes of the calf are malleable and soft. As the orcas get bigger, they become more rigid. Most calves reach a height of 64 cm (25 in.) during their first year and acquire roughly 400 kg (882 lbs.). They can reach heights of roughly 53 cm (21 in.) during their second year.
The adults instruct the young orcas on how to hunt and interact with other orcas as they mature. They give them advice on the best places for breeding, eating, and migrating. Different orca groups have very different cultures, and information is passed down from father to son. Orcas stick with their mothers even after they become adults.
Between the ages of 6 and 10, female orcas reach sexual maturity, and they start mating at about 14 years old. In the decade between the ages of 10 and 13, males reach sexual maturity.
Orcas are highly social animals with complex social structures. They continue to live in pods of up to 50 individuals as they get older. However, this varies depending on the particular group they belong to. A pod consists of males, females, and calves of various ages. They frequently remain in groups called pods, share food, and don’t disperse for longer than a few hours at a time.
What Factors Threaten the Orca’s Lifespan
Considering that orcas are apex predators, they don’t have any actual natural enemies. They are still vulnerable to dangers coming from other places, though.
Orcas are threatened by:
- Getting trapped in fishing nets by accident: Fishing gear can seriously harm orcas. Whales that become entangled may drag and swim for long distances with connected gear or become fixed in place and lose their ability to swim. These incidents result in exhaustion, reduced ability to feed, or severe injuries that may be fatal.
- Oil spills: The 1989 Alaska Exxon Valdez oil disaster directly caused the deaths of individual killer whales. On the other hand, oil spills limit the range of prey species that killer whales can catch, which may have a direct impact on the animals. In addition, they have been observed to accumulate some pollutants in oil, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), particularly given that they are known to migrate in a variety of waters.
- Food scarcity: Some orcas no longer have as much access to prey due to habitat destruction and overfishing. Insufficient prey may cause killer whales to reproduce less frequently and die more frequently.
Orcas have different life spans for the sexes; females sometimes outlive males by as much as 20 years. Only one male Southern Resident killer whale (J1, Ruffles) is known to have lived past the age of 50, while several females have lived to an estimated age of 80 or older.
Because they are dependent on Chinook salmon, the lifespan of Southern Resident killer whales has probably started to decrease over the past few decades. Malnutrition can cause serious health problems, such as lowered reproductive success, weakened immune systems, and sadly, a shorter lifespan.