Viewers of the movie, “Free Willy,” would never guess that the friendly orca, Willy, could be considered a killer. However, other movies have shown a much darker side of orcas. They are even called killer whales around the world.
However, the name killer whale is not appropriate for several reasons. First, an orca is not a whale; it is a type of dolphin. Dolphins and whales are similar but have several important differences. Dolphins, like orcas, have one blowhole while whales have two. Also, all dolphins have sharp teeth, and most whales do not have teeth. Instead, they have something called baleen.
Another reason orcas should not be called killer whales is that they are actually very friendly to humans. One group of whalers in Australia claimed that a pod of orcas even helped them hunt baleen whales between 1840 and 1930.
The orcas that helped the whalers for almost a century were just one of many pods of orcas. The orcas in the pods work together as a community. Not only do they hunt together, but they also protect the young, sick, and injured members of the pod. This is not the behavior of a “killer.”
Orcas are carnivores. This may be one reason they have been called killer whales. They eat fish, squid, sharks, seals, turtles, octopi, and birds. Orcas will even work together in their pods to kill very enormous prey such as whales. This may have been how they got the name killer whales. One theory is that hundreds of years ago, sailors saw orcas attacking much larger whales and called them “whale killers.” Over time, the name was reversed, and they became the killer whales of today.
It is understandable that humans would be afraid of orcas. An average orca is 60 times bigger than a man. It is about 30 feet long and can weigh up to 12,000 pounds. Orcas also have between 40 and 52 sharp teeth and can swim up to 30 miles an hour.
Despite their carnivorous diet and immense size, orcas just aren’t killer whales. Like their fellow dolphins, orcas are friendly to humans and work in cooperative groups. Instead of being afraid of them, humans should celebrate the orcas.
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