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How the killer whales are classified

The killer whale is one of the most impressive animals on Earth. With their enormous dimensions and predatory characteristics, they are commonly known as killer whales . However, this nickname, from the direct translation of the English killer whale , has undeservedly brought them a bad name in certain cultures.

To help you get to know these whales better and appreciate their qualities, from AgroCorrn we want to present you the taxonomy, the main characteristics and how orcas are classified .

You may also be interested in: Where do penguins live and what do they eat?
  1. Killer whale taxonomy: taxonomic classification
  2. Killer whale characteristics
  3. Orca classification: the 3 groups

Killer whale taxonomy: taxonomic classification

The killer whale ( Orcinus orca ) is a toothed cetacean that belongs to the Delphinidae family It is the only living species of the genus Orcinus and the largest of the dolphin family.

Orcas or “killer whales” taxonomy is as follows:

Animalia Kingdom

Killer whales are multicellular and heterotrophic animals.

Filo: Chordata

Killer whales are vertebrate animals.

Class: Mammalia

Killer whales are warm-blooded animals, with a respiratory system based on pulmonary respiration and with mammary glands supplied with milk to feed their young.

Orden: Cetacea

Group with ancestrally terrestrial animals but used to living in aquatic ecosystems today.

Suborden: Odontoceti

This suborder differs from toothed whales from baleen whales. Thus, the killer whale is included as a toothed cetacean.

Family: Delphinidae

Members of this family are called dolphins or oceanic dolphins (dolphins and porpoises).

Género: Orcinus

The term “orca” comes from the Greek and refers to “whale”.

Especie: Orcinus orca

This is the exact scientific name of the killer whale.

Killer whale characteristics

After knowing the taxonomy of killer whales, we will talk about characteristics of killer whales or orcas , such as their appearance, behavior, diet, habitat, intelligence, reproduction, etc., some very interesting data to know them better.

General aspect

Killer whales are characterized by a patch on the eyes, on the chest and with white lateral areas and a black back, a long and straight dorsal fin and perfect teeth to catch prey and chop them for food.

Size, weight and speed

In terms of their dimensions, orcas stand out and differ from other dolphins due to their impressive size. Of robust corpulence, the killer whales can exceed 9 meters in length and 6,000 kilos, somewhat smaller in the case of females. From birth, the young have a weight of about 180 kilos and 2 meters in length. In terms of speed, orcas can reach 50 km / h, although the usual is between 5 and 10 km / h, without diving very deep.


They are great predators with a communication system based on particular vocalizations in each individual. This allows them to hunt in groups, as their communication is amazing and has been studied for decades.


These cetaceans are present in all the world’s oceans, although it is more common to see killer whales in cold areas.

What do orcas eat

These predators eat about 5% of their total body weight on a daily basis and spend 60% of their time searching for prey, being able to attack other large marine mammals. Some of their common prey are sea lions, seals, sharks, walruses, turtles, penguins, and even whales, putting them at the top of the food chain .

Behavior and intelligence

A special curiosity of the species is that it has the largest brain of the cetaceans, after the sperm whale. In addition, they are a highly intelligent species capable of imitating other animals and even teaching specific behaviors and skills to their young, such as intentionally stranding on beaches to hunt seals and sea lions.


Female killer whales become sexually mature when they are 4.6 m to 4.9 m in length and are 6 to 10 years old. In contrast, male killer whales become sexually mature when they reach between 5.5 m and 6.1 m in length and between 10 years and 13 years.

Usually, they can give birth to a single calf at each birth and their gestation frequency is between 5 and 6 years, since the gestation period can vary, normally, between 15 and 18 months. At birth, the young are between 2 m and 2.7 m long and weigh about 200 kg.

Life expectancy

Finally, with a life expectancy of approximately 60 years for males and 90 for females, orcas are also one of the longest-lived animals.

Orca classification: the 3 groups

Depending on their customs and places where they live, there are three different types of killer whales , each with its own habits and peculiarities, such as specific sounds or dialects to communicate.

Resident killer whales

The resident killer whales live near the coasts , without traveling long distances, and live in groups with approximately 5 individuals united by strong family ties. To recognize them, just look at its curved fin with a rounded, sphere-shaped tip. Finally, their diet is based on fish and squid.

Killer whales passersby

Passing killer whales, in general, do not stay in specific places, but travel long distances . In this case, we can identify these killer whales by the fins located on their dorsal part, with a rather triangular and sharp tip. They generally live in small groups of about 3 orcas. In contrast to the residents, in these killer whales it is common to observe the abandonment by the children of the family group or even males alone. These cetaceans feed on seals, sea lions, turtles, etc.

Sea killer whales

The maritime killer whales live in areas very far from the coasts , around 25 kilometers from these. Their fins have a curved shape and, in general, they are smaller than the rest. Finally, these types of killer whales form large groups, of between 20 and 75 individuals and their diet is based on sharks, seals, sea lions and other animals of the high seas.

You may also be interested in this other AgroCorrn article on the Difference between killer whale and false killer whale .

If you want to read more articles similar to How killer whales are classified , we recommend that you enter our Wild Animals category .

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