- The Animal Encyclopedia for Kids


Orca / Killer Whale Facts

Size 20-26 ft (6-8 m)
Speed 35 mph (56 km/h) (short distances), 6-12 mph (10-20 km/h) (long distances)
Weight Up to 6 tons
Lifespan 50-80 years
Food Fish, marine mammals, seals, squids, penguins
Predators Big sharks
Habitat Ocean and coastal regions
Order Whales
Suborder Toothed whales
Family Oceanic dolphins
Scientific name Orca orcinus
Characteristics Big, black and white whale

Main Characteristics

Orcas are Dolphins

If someone is talking about dolphins, you always think of the friendly smiling and joyfully squeaking grey marine mammal. Yet, there exist about 40 differently sized and colored dolphin species. The orca is the biggest and heaviest among them.

Anatomy and Appearance

Why Are Orcas Black and White?

If you are under water and look up to the water surface, it is mostly rather bright due to the daylight. Thus, it is very difficult for preys and enemies to detect the white tummy of the orca. From above, all preys and enemies look at the orca’s black back, which can hardly be distinguished from the darkness of the deep waters.

Orca Orca - Photo: Tory Kallman/Shutterstock


Life Under Water

Orcas swim distances of up to 100 miles (160 km) each day. They dive to around 100-500 feet (30-150 meters) deep and can stay under water for 15-20 minutes. But they usually come up for air every two to five minutes.

Orcas Like to Socialize

Orcas are very sociable and live in groups of 10 to 70 animals. They nearly always swim together and hardly ever part. Every group has its own dialect (a certain manner to utter sounds) to maintain their strong social cohesion. All members of an orca group take care of the young ones, no matter if they are directly related to each other or not. In exceptional cases, the animals can become up to 80 years old. Sometimes up to four generations are living together.

What Do Orcas Eat?

Orcas are pretty hungry. Per day, orcas eat about 485 lb (220 kg) of food, which can consist of 20 to 30 different species of mammals, fish and birds.

Orcas Are Smart Hunters

They hunt in teams and use all kinds of hunting strategies. They confuse their prey with air bubbles, stun them by hitting them with their fins, drive them together, cut off their escape routes, push or snap them from ice floes or even sweep them into the water by using their fins to make big waves.

Orca Orca - Photo: Tory Kallman/Shutterstock

Origin of the Name

Why Are Orcas Called "Killer Whales"?

The orca has been feared as a killer whale for centuries, although it is generally friendly and curious as far as humans are concerned. So, why is it called killer whale then? To begin with: The name orca derives from the scientific name Orcinus orca. The term "killer whale" probably alludes to the orca’s preferred food, which includes other whales such as small dolphins, minke whales, and gray whales. Therefore, fishermen called it “whale killer”, which became "killer whale" later on.


Orcas have a gestation period of 12 to 18 months. At birth, an orca calf already weighs 440 lb (200 kg) and is about 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) long. Mother and child maintain a close relationship, which mostly lasts for their entire lives.

Orca Orca - Photo: Karoline Cullen/Shutterstock

Fun Facts

Orcas Have the Second Largest Brain

After the sperm whale, orcas have the second largest brain of all marine mammals.

Animals in the Same Biome:

Video: 28 Facts About Orcas

Orca Video

(Video opens on YouTube)

Pupils are welcome to use this information at school for animal profiles, fact sheets, essays, work sheets, presentations, posters or homework. All information appearing on this site has been precisely and thoroughly researched, nevertheless should you notice any errors, please do notify us via email.

Copyright © 2018-2022 All rights reserved. No part of this site or its content may be reproduced without the permission of the copyright holder.