10 min read

Here's How You Can ID Different Orcas And Why That's So Important

<p>Rennett Stowe / <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomsaint/3727711709/" target="_blank">Flickr</a> (<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" target="_blank">CC BY 2.0</a>) </p>

Readers of The Dodo, might be familiar with particular names, Tilikum, Lolita, and Hugo, just to mention a few, the names of innocent prisoners, of killer whales who have (or had) been trapped in captivity for far too long to benefit their welfare or the education of the public. However passionate we are about all animals, captive or wild, few fellow-minded peers and non-experts I have personally come across can discuss the natural backgrounds and diversities of these whales - whales who have endured harsh lives miles away from their true cultures and families. Learning about the fine nuances of the behavior and diet of this beautiful apex predator has been an awe-inspiring experience; however, what is even more eye-opening is the realization that killer whale populations around the globe are becoming more and more threatened by human activity. So sit back, grab a notepad, and discover the orcas of the world.

Antarctic Type A Killer Whale

Photo: John Durban, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Antarctic type A killer whale is a large orca that migrates to Antarctica every summer to feed on a wide variety of marine life in the open sea. It mainly consumes minke whales during exhausting, often dangerous chases across the ocean surface, requiring immense stamina, determination, and social cooperation for survival. With the approach of winter, these whales are thought to return to the warm tropics to mate and have calves.

Antarctic Type B Killer Whale

The "Pack Ice" killer whale is divided into two distinct ecotypes, or dietary lifestyles. Larger type B individuals roam around the entire South Pole and use teamwork on ice floes to hunt Weddell seals, while smaller populations have been recorded taking penguins along the Antarctic Peninsula and Gerlache Strait. The appearance of the type B orca is utterly stunning: a two-toned, gray-and-white subtype with a beautiful dark "cape" on its back, frequently seen with a yellowish tinge across its skin caused by algae.

Ross Sea Type C Killer Whale

The smallest killer whale, with a steeply slanted eye patch, this orca thrives in the cold, deep waters beneath the pack ice of Antarctica, feeding on Antarctic cod alongside its closest genetic relative - the type B killer whale - in massive pods. It inhabits the Ross Sea and much of the east Antarctic Ocean. Like other orcas, the type C killer whale uses elaborate communication methods, strength in numbers, and family-taught hunting methods to chase down fast-moving schools of fish. Unfortunately, due to an absence of data on its feeding behavior, overfishing of Antarctic cod places the type C in an uncertain area of risk.

Subantarctic Type D Killer Whale

A mysterious ecotype some researchers suspect is a wholly different species, the type D orca is easily recognized by its slim eye patch, arched head, and small teeth. Though it congregates near islands and Patagonian toothfishing boats, its diet and role within the environment is largely unknown. Because the population count and genetic diversity of the type D is shrouded in mystery, conservation efforts are necessary to safeguard the subtype so that it can be protected, studied, and appreciated.

Resident Killer Whale

The most famous killer whale in the eyes of the public media, the resident orca has become notorious due to the tenacity of one of its members - Lolita - against time and neglect. Females of resident populations are known for their exceptionally long lifespans, and Lolita is no exception, having lived more than 40 years performing at the Miami Seaquarium. As a fish specialist, Lolita would have thrived on salmon and steelhead in the waters of Puget Sound, nurtured by the unbreakable maternal bonds she would have formed with her children and grandchildren. The fact that she and other residents were torn apart from their families and forced into captivity as calves is an excess of a crime to demand freedom for all whales.

Transient Killer Whale

The transient killer whale, also known as Bigg's whale, is a large whale whose diet revolves around regional marine mammals. Named for its aptitude for traveling, this orca has been documented as far north as southern Alaska all the way down to the coast of California. Similar in appearance to the resident whale, the transient killer whale is distinguished by its smaller groups, simpler dialects, and weaker maternal bonds - not to mention its enthusiasm for exploration. Because of the similarities between the two types, Tilikum is expected to be either a transient or resident whale.

Offshore Killer Whale

Photo: Robert Pitman, NOAA

Lastly, the offshore killer whale is an open-water subtype that can be identified by its small size and scarred, rounded dorsal fin. Most frequently spotted off the east North Pacific continental shelf, it appears to prey on sharks, whose tough hides give the population its characteristic worn-down teeth. Forming pods up to 200 strong, this animal displays the classic intelligence, remarkable variety, and social intimacy of the thrilling killer whale: a whale whose worldwide abuse must be put to an end.

In-depth coverage and a fantastic illustrated poster of this info can be found at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's webpage.

All images and resources belong to their respective owners.

Annie Huang is a fifteen-year-old conservationist, writer, and animal rights activist aspiring to unite real science with real-world issues in order to increase awareness and promote education on the reversible perils of life on Earth. To contact me, please email me at annie.huang3@gmail.com or leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

"At the molecular level, we are all virtually identical." - Carl Sagan