Sink your teeth into this: 15 facts about orcas

killerwhales_southernresidentsI won’t lie. My inspiration for this post is my obsession with this season’s Top Chef,  set in Seattle, WA (Bye, Kristen! I was very sad you went home). Anyway, here is a list of some captivating facts about the dominating marine mammal (the last one is the most important!).

  1. The killer whale, or orca, is a toothed whale and a kind of dolphin – in fact, it’s the largest of all the dolphins!
  2. Their Latin name, Orcinus orca, means ‘Greek god of the underworld’.
  3. Male orcas can average up to 22 feet in length and can average up to 12,000 pounds.
  4. Female orcas can average up to 19 feet in length and can average up to 8,000 pounds.
  5. Newborn orcas average up to 8 feet in length and weigh up to 400 pounds.
  6. Orcas typically swim to speeds of 3 to 4 miles per hour, but can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour.
  7. Female orcas give birth on average every three years after age 13. Some may average giving birth every ten years.
  8. The dorsal fin of the male orca is the tallest of all the whales! It can be up to 6 feet high. Their dorsal fin will not be at full height until 12-20 years.
  9. Female orcas live to be 90 years old, while male orcas live to be about about 50 years.
  10. Orcas are known for excellent eyesight above and below the surface of the water.
  11. Orcas are common to the Arctic and Antarctic waters, but are found in every ocean around the world.
  12. Orcas eat up to 500 pounds of prey (e.g., fish, walruses, seals, sea lions, penguins, squid, sea turtles, sharks, as well as other types of whales) a day. They live and hunt in cooperative and playful pods forming packs – they’ve even picked up the nickname ‘wolves of the sea’.
  13. Orcas do not chew their food. They use their teeth for ripping and tearing prey, but most often swallow their prey whole. Their teeth are up to 3 inches long!
  14. Orcas have a gray area behind their dorsal fin, known as the ‘saddle patch’, that are unique to each whale.
  15. There are only 86 orcas left in the Pacific Northwest’ Puget Sound population. This population is threatened with extinction due to pollution, climate change and food shortages. You can sign a petition with Change.org to help keep orcas on the Endangered Species Act (Well, you can sign until January 27, 2013).

I am sure I missed many interesting details in this “Sink your teeth into this” post. Please feel free to add your favorite below or you can learn more here.

Image (c) nmfs.noaa.gov

Do whales and dolphins get sunburn?

amy Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National...According to this article from The Royal Society (published November 2010) whales are very prone to the harmful rays of the sun. The scientists discovered whales that spend more time at the surface of the sea had more skin cells exposed and therefore were showing more damage from the ultraviolet radiation.

It was even pointed out that lighter species of blue whales are more sensitive to the sun than darker fin whales or sperm whales.

The authors noted, “We conclude that the thinning ozone layer may pose a risk to the health of whales and other vulnerable wildlife.”

I found a great whale watcher

I miss my time aboard the Atlantic Star where we would head out to sea in the early morning and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins would be at the surface near the bow of the boat as if leading the way for a great trip. Ah, those were the days. As a substitute I did discover Ms. Monica Wieland who has a great blog about her sightings of killer whales, Orca orca. Her photos and blog descriptions are dynamic and captivating and I enjoy what she has to share. Recently she even wrote about her encounter with Mr. Paul Watson, captain of the Sea Sheperd (the boat that is famous from Discovery Channel’s  Whale Wars).

I hope you find as much enjoyment with the images of Ms. Wieland’s  magnificent neighbors as I have these days!

I love how the motion of the tail slap is captured here:

Image (c) Monika Wieland 2010.

14 fascinating facts about the blue whale

Blue Whale

  1. A toddler can fit into a blue whale’s blowhole. The spray can reach up to 30 feet high.
  2. The blue whale’s scientific name is Balaenoptera musculus.
  3. Blue whales live in all oceans of the world.
  4. A blue whale’s tongue weighs more than an elephant.
  5. Blue whales are the loudest animal on Earth reaching up to 188 decibel.
  6. A blue whale’s heart weighs up to 2,000 pounds. Their heart can be the size of a Mini Cooper.
  7. Blue whales are the fastest growing animal or plant on Earth.
  8. Blue whales can be up to 100 feet long. That is about the length of a NBA basketball court.
  9. A medium size dog can comfortably walk through a blue whale’s arteries.
  10. Blue whales can live up to 90 years in the wild.
  11. Blue whales look blue underwater, but gray above the surface of the water.
  12. Blue whales tend to sleep in the middle of the day.
  13. Blue whales eat krill.
  14. Blue whales can swim up to 30 miles per hour.

Do you have another great question? Email info@beachchairscientist.com and let us know what you always ponder while digging your toes in the sand!