Orca (Killer Whales), Largest of the Dolphin Family

Orcas here pictured by Harbor Breeze Cruises

By Eric Gray (LBLN Contributor)

You may have seen “Blackfish”, a documentary film directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, where we learn the story of Tilikum, an orca ‘killer whale’ who was involved in the death of three humans.  Despite this and other tragic circumstances where they have been held in captivity, orcas are not considered to be a dangerous threat to humans in the wild, in fact, there have been no fatal encounters between our two species to date in the ocean.

Orcas however, are very intelligent, playful in nature, and are a great spectacle for many in Southern California to see when there is an opportunity.  Most recently, a pod of orcas had been spotted off the coast of Redondo Beach by a group of whale watching experts with Newport Coastal Adventure where they followed the orcas for eight-hours and witnessed them hunt a sea lion.

After the orcas had their meal, a group member with Newport Coastal Adventure describe the mammals as very sociable, swimming next to the boat, and jumping out of the water to get a good look at what was on it.

Orcas are not whales though.  According to National Geographic, “Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators.”

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also confirms that “The orca, or killer whale,…. is actually the largest member of the dolphin family and that Dolphins make whistling sounds through their blowholes to communicate with one another underwater.”

So why are orcas defined as Killer Whales?  According to animalsake.com, “The name ‘killer whale’ was given to orcas by Spanish sailors. These sailors, who traveled to distant locations by sea, had often been witness to the hunting skills of orcas. The Spanish sailors named them Matador de Ballenas. This term is literally translated to English as ‘killer of whales’.”

There is still an incredible amount of research that needs to be done to better understand orcas.  The Sydney Morning Herald published a story in October of 2017 where researchers “found “overwhelming” evidence that cetaceans,” a whale, dolphin, or porpoise “possess sophisticated cultural traits similar to those seen in human societies.  The long list of shared characteristics included working together for mutual benefit, teaching tool use, co-operative hunting, and communicating using complex vocalisations with regional “dialects”.

They go on to say “The cetaceans, also recognised individual “names” in the form of signature “whistles”, looked after youngsters that were not their own, and showed an ability to work with different species, such as humans.”

While researchers are still learning more about orcas and other intelligent sea life, we are very fortunate in Long Beach to have the opportunity to see our neighbors in the ocean up close.  Whale, Dolphin, and Sea Life Cruises by Harbor Breeze Cruises departs from Downtown Long Beach on a regular basis with 2 1/2 hour tours.

For more information on Harbor Breeze Cruises, you can visit their website online, here.