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 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)

What they’re into … with Jim Wharton (Seattle Aquarium)

This is a series I’ve been featuring each Tuesday this summer to get a special sneak peek at the different personalities behind the scientists, activists, and educators (including bloggers) who play an integral role in the marine science conservation field. It’s essentially an extension of the overwhelmingly popular and well done Tumblr blog, This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, (BCS was featured in April!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I’ve sent a list of 15 random questions to some folks I know and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them. This week’s feature shares some insight into the world of Jim Wharton.

Jim Wharton, Director of Conservation and Education at the Seattle Aquarium, feels at  home again in the Pacific Northwest after over 8 years in Florida working for the Smithsonian Marine Station and Mote Marine Laboratory. He started his career in marine science education as a volunteer, then educator at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Jim is also deeply involved with the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) where he is a member of the board of directors and more committees than he has time for. You can learn more about him at or follow his on Twitter for marine science miscellanea @jimwharton.

Jim notes, “The mission of the Seattle Aquarium is ‘Inspiring conservation of our marine environment’. To be true stewards of the marine environment people have to be science-literate and ocean-literate…but first they have to care. Marine science education helps people develop all these muscles, for flexing in support of the ocean.”

What is the last thing you bought that you shouldn’t have?
Unagi. I know freshwater eel is on SeafoodWatch’s sushi red list, but sometimes I’m weak. A colleague explained to me recently that one of the precursors to behavior change is a public declaration…so consider this mine. Any animal that swims thousands of miles out to sea to reproduce deserves a little more respect from me.

What is your favorite sundae topping?
Dark chocolate and caramel combo…on principles of general awesomeness.

What three things would you take with you to an island?
Assuming my family and/or a satellite phone is cheating…The Demon-Haunted World, mask/fin/snorkel, sunglasses. The Demon-Haunted World, by Carl Sagan, is a treatise of reason and a book I can read over and over. Mask/fins/snorkel, well, it’s an island. And anyone who knows me knows that I would be very uncomfortable without my sunglasses.

How superstitious are you?
Not at all (see above). I used to pretend to be superstitious (probably because everyone around me seemed to be), but I’ve given up believing that jinxes, broken mirrors, or wearing the same socks on gamedays have any real effect on the external world. I do think the idea of finding some locus of control in a chaotic world is a very human and understandable impulse. Wait, did I just call myself ‘inhuman?’

What is your favorite day of the week?
I’ve often bragged that Fridays and Mondays are meaningless to me. It’s a fringe benefit of loving the work you do. 

If you were a geometric shape, what would you like to be?
A star? Too much? I guess I’ll go with a triangle. Triangles are well-balanced and they have a point. I just hope people don’t find me obtuse.

What’s some other random favorite information about you?
I actually enjoy public speaking, but hate making toasts. Go figure.

Thank you for participating, Jim, keep up the great work! Everyone else, don’t forget to check out previous editions of “What they’re into …” with David Helvarg and Miriam Goldstein.