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Whale and Dolphin watching on the Isle of Mull

Killer Whales

Also known as Orca, this large black and white species is easily identified, however it is the largest species of Dolphin on the planet and not a whale as often thought.

Males can reach 9m in length and the females are slightly smaller at around 6-7metres. This species is very easily identified, mainly black on top, the entire underside is white, and there have a white side stripe and white eye patch. There is also a grey saddle patch directly behind the dorsal fin. The males can easily be identified even at a distance by their huge dorsal fin, in a fully grown adult male it can reach up to 6ft (1.8m) high, whereas the fins of the females and calves are smaller and more falcate, or curved.

Killer Whales are probably the most wide-ranging of the cetacean species being found in both polar regions and warm tropical waters. The group of Killer Whales around the Hebrides is relatively small in comparison with other groups across the world with up to 8 individuals being seen at one time and 10 different animals being identified through photo identification techniques. The individuals we encounter are very wide ranging with one animal, ‘John Coe’, been seen off the Pembrokeshire coast in 2007 and 2008 and off North-West Ireland in 2004 and again in 2009, on this occasion he was joined by other members of the pod. Because they have such a wide range sightings are infrequent and impossible to predict, however they can occur at any time throughout the year.

There are three types of Killer Whale; Resident, Transient and offshore. They can usually be identified by
their group size behaviour and food preference. Residents are more fish eaters, whilst transients are marine mammal specialists with things like Seals, Sea Lions and smaller cetaceans making up the majority of their diet, and whilst little is known about the offshore populations it is thought they will prey mainly on larger fish and Sharks. The whale population around the Hebrides was first thought to be fish eaters, however there has been at least one confirmed occurrence of them feeding on marine mammals, namely Harbour Porpoise.

It is suggested that the name Killer Whale came from Whale Killers, which was a nickname the species was given during the main whaling period. Killer Whales would often be seen following the whaling ships and then attacking the dead great whales that would be being towed back to port behind the whaling vessels.


Last edited 11/02/2011