Orca (Killer Whale)

Orcinus orca

What do they look like?

Orcas can grow up to 10 metres in size, their stocky build and distinctive colouring setting them apart from other species. Black and white, with a grey patch located on their lower back, their dorsal fin can reach 2 metres in size, the largest of any cetacean. Pods can reach up to 50 individuals and can travel at up to 35 miles per hour.

For orcas, what they hunt and eat depends on their pod. Prey may consist of fish (including sharks), squid, octopus, seals, whales, porpoise and other dolphins. Most pods will choose to specialize in a particular type of prey and pass down the specialist skills needed to hunt effectively from generation to generation. They work as a pack, often expertly executing hunting routines in silence so as not to alert their prey. Their patterning works like camouflage, breaking up their appearance and making them harder to see in the water.

Where can I see them in Scotland?

Orcas are most frequently spotted on the North and West coast of Scotland. A small pod resides year-round on the West coast and northern pods are commonly sighted in Shetland, Orkney and from the North coast. However, orcas are not unheard of in the East of Scotland, with northern pods occasionally travelling south to feed.

43 years
Average lifespan

Want to find out more about cetaceans in Scotland?

Visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation website or the Sea Watch Foundation website for more information.