Sunday, February 28, 2010

Killer Whales

The first thing you need to know about killer whales is that they are black-and-white, just like me!  And that makes them very beautiful, also like me!  Most other kinds of whales are a boring grey in color, so I think it's because of the black-and-white color of the killer whales that people like to go watch them swim in the ocean or at someplace like SeaWorld.

Killer whales are also called orcas because their scientific name is Orcinus orca.  They are actually dolphins, and they are the very biggest dolphins of all.  Every ocean on the whole planet has orcas, whether it's a really cold ocean or a really warm ocean.  There are five different types of orcas, but nobody has figured out yet if these five types are separate species or subspecies or races or what.

The different types of orcas live in different places and eat different types of food, so that's how you can tell them apart.  Some of them eat mostly fish such as salmon or herring.  Others eat mostly seals or sometimes walruses and sea otters.  Orcas can hunt together in groups, kind of like a wolf pack, and when they do this, they can kill really big stuff like gray whales and blue whales and sperm whales.  Some orcas also like to eat birds, such as penguins, cormorants, and sea gulls.

Killer whales live much longer lives than dogs do.  The female orcas can live to be 80 or 90, but the average lifespan is about 50 years.  The average oldest age for males is 29, but some get to be 50 or 60 years old.  The female whale is called a cow, even though she doesn't look anything like the kind of cow you might see on a farm.  She doesn't mate and have babies until she is 15 or so.  Then when she gets pregnant, it takes almost 18 months before the baby calf is born, after which the calf nurses for almost two years.  Orca cows have about one calf every five years until they are 40 or so.

Okay, now here's something really interesting about killer whales:  they never leave their moms.  Even after they are all grown up, they stick together in a group with their mom, and this group is called a matriline.  Usually there are 5 or 6 orcas in a matriline, and they stick together all the time because orcas are very social animals.  Then when a couple of matrilines who are related get together, it's called a pod.

There are people who say that it is cruel for humans to keep intelligent animals like whales and dolphins in aquariums or to keep land animals in zoos.  I'm not sure what I think about this question because I can see good and bad things about the argument on both sides.  Which means I am very open-minded, at least on this topic!  But I will admit that it seems mean to keep a great big huge animal like a whale in a place like SeaWorld, because whales like to swim long distances, and they can even go as far as 100 miles in one day.  Also in my research I learned that wild killer whales have never attacked or harmed humans, but sometimes captive killer whales like Tillikum have done that.  So maybe being in a small place can make a whale crazy, just like being in a crate can make some dogs crazy.

Anyway, now there are some whale expert type people who say that maybe Tillikum should be released from SeaWorld so that he can be a wild orca again.   But this is not as easy as it sounds.  Tilly was first captured near Iceland when he was 2 or 3 years old, and now he is about 30.  So he has probably forgotten how to be a wild whale, and he would have to learn how all over again.

Also if Tillikum went out to live in the ocean, he would have to find the pod he used to belong to because another pod wouldn't accept him.  And orcas want to be in groups, like I told you, so Tilly would probably die of loneliness or separation anxiety if he couldn't be in a pod.  Either that or he would come back to humans for companionship, because that is what happened with at least one other killer whale that got released but couldn't find a pod to hang with.

Some people want SeaWorld to set an example of not breeding or capturing any new killer whales, so that after the ones that are there now get old and die, there won't be any more orcas in captivity.  If people want to see orcas, they can go out in boats to see them in the ocean.  This seems like a good idea to me, but the SeaWorld people make a lot of money from orcas, so I'm afraid they might not agree.


  1. Dear Piper-
    My mom and I think it's great that you're talking about Orcas. Mom says she'd love to go see Orcas in the wild, but I don't really think it's a good idea to get on a boat. Do you think there's any where I could see them from land? I went to Oregon about a year ago, but we didn't see any orcas while we were standing on the beach.

    Mom also suggests looking at this:
    "Reaching the Animal Mind" was a good book, at least that's what mom said. There are also links to videos dealing with each chapter which was really neat even if they didn't show any basenjis. (And they really should have shown some of my superstar-in-training stuff.)

    Your friend
    Zest, superstar in training

  2. Dear Zest,
    I totally agree that it's not a good idea to get on a boat because if you do, you could fall in the water and drown or else get eaten by a killer whale! But I don't know if there's anyplace to stand on the shore and see orcas or not. I tried to google "viewing wild orcas," but mostly I just got articles about Tillikum and the SeaWorld incident. Here's a really good one by a person at CNN that talks about how Tilly should be freed, even though it would be difficult:
    Mom has not read that book about "Reaching the Animal Mind," but she might try to read it sometime. Mom and I wish that Cesar Milan had to train orcas instead of dogs, because then maybe he would learn to use more positive methods!
    Your friend,

  3. Mom says she found that book at the local library. She really likes her local library even if that book is worth spending the money on.

    I would really like to see CM alpha roll a "red zone" orca. Mom says she might even spend money on cable tv for that!

    We're going to go do some 'gility before it snows here. And then we'll watch the hockey game. How many times does the US hockey team have to beat Canada to get the gold? I guess at least twice.

    Zest, superstar in training

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