| Azorean Species | Killer Whale - Orcinus orca - Orca in the Azores

Scientific Name: Orcinus orca (Linneaus, 1758).

Common Name (UK, FR, PT, ES, DE): Killer whale. Orque. Orca. Orca. Schwertwal

Short Species description: Belonging to the toothed cetaceans (Odontoceti), Killer whales are the largest dolphin (as genetically they belong to the Delphinidae).

Robust body and distinctive black and white color pattern. The size of adult females is up to 8.5 m long and 9.8 m in adult males with 7,500 kg and nearly 10,000 kg respectively. Newborns are between 2.1 and 2.6 m and its weight is about 160-180 kg. With strong ecotype variations, their feeding behavior goes from fish up to other marine mammals. Its lifespan is 50-60 years in males and 80-90 years in females, who have menopause. (Carwardine 1995, Jefferson et al. 2015).

Population status: 50.000 individuals worldwide. Endangered in several areas. (Jefferson et al. 2015).

Occurrence in the Azores (including season): rare in the Azores.

Pods range from 4 to 6-8 or even larger pods. Can be interactive with boats.

We believe the pods we have observed resemble the Eastern Northatlantic Ecotype 1, because the white eyepatch above their eye angles upwards on opposition (as in the image below).

However, the size of the animals observed can be larger than 8 meters (Foote et al. 2009) therefore indicating these can be the offshore Ecotype 2, or even a third ecotype undescrived.

Ectoype 1 have been described as transient, or seasonal resident on coastal areas with a more specialized feeding on smaller prey, such as fish. In opposition the larger and more offshore Ecotype 2 normally have generallist feeding habits, feeding on larger prey including other cetaceans.

Habitat Use: the most cosmopolitan of all cetaceans, most common in nearshore areas and higher latitudes. (Jefferson et al. 2015).

Pod Size: pod sizes depending on the ecotype, from 1 to 50 individuals.

Typical Behavior: Distinguished by differences in acoustics, very socials inside their species, matrilineal-based social structure. May show interest in vessels. Aerial active: fin-slapping, breaching or spy hopping. (Jefferson et al. 2015).

Images from some of our sightings

Male Killer Whale Orcinus orca observed on pod of six on June2019

Male Killer Whale Orcinus orca observed on pod of six on June2019


Cerwardine, M. (1995). Baleias Golfinhos e Botos; O guia com imagens de todos os cetáceos do mundo. London: Bertrand Editora.

Jefferson, T.A., Webber, M.A., Pitman, R.L. (2015). Marine Mammals of the World; A Comprehensive Guide of Their Identification. 2nd edition. London: El Sevier.

Foote, A. D., Newton, J., Piertney, S. B., Willerslev, E., & Gilbert, M. T. P. (2009). Ecological, morphological and genetic divergence of sympatric North Atlantic killer whale populations. Molecular Ecology, 18(24), 5207-5217.

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