RANGE: Orcas have been sighted in virtually every marine region in the world; however, they’re most common near shorelines in the cold waters of high latitudes.
STATUS: The orca is listed as Conservation-dependent by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Puget Sound’s “southern resident” orca community is listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
THREATS: Toxic chemicals, declines in salmon, general ecosystem deterioration, growing whale-watching pressure, collisions with ships, oil spills, Navy sonar, and entanglement in fishing nets.
Sometimes called the seawolf or killer whale, the orca is (strictly speaking) neither wolf nor whale—it’s actually the largest and most striking member of the dolphin family. This highly intelligent, powerful marine predator can live to be 80 years old, reach 25 feet in length and weigh 10,000 pounds. Hunting in family groups called pods, orcas chase and corner their prey with the efficiency and skill of a wolf pack. Some pods target marine mammals and birds almost exclusively, while others prefer to stick to a diet of fish and have been seen swimming peacefully alongside seals and sea lions. Worldwide, these striking cetaceans are under threat from pollution, food scarcity, and fishing activity. The rapidly dwindling numbers of the Puget Sound killer whale community inspired the Center for Biological Diversity to secure Endangered Species Act protection for the whales in 2005.
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