Actually, killer whales are only a real threat to humans when they are in captivity. There have been very few incidents of injuries involving killer whales and humans in the wild.
There have been a few deaths though (involving whales in captivity). There have been over 24 attacks since 1970.
Some believe that the name “killer whale” is not only inaccurate, but demeaning to the whale. Some people have suggested that “killer whale” is just a mis-translation from earlier Spanish sailor’s descriptions of the animals as “whale killers” because they mainly hunted in groups and attacked larger whales for food. In more recent centuries killer whales are often discriminated due to people’s inaccurate assumptions about them. There have been instances where killer whales have attacked people, such as the incident at Sea World, but I would say that killer whales do not intentionally kill people, but may at times revert to their instinctive ways.
Obviously killer whales kill other animals; they are carnivores. They eat fish, penguins, seals, anything they can catch in the wild.
Orcas, or “killer whales” as they are commonly referred to, are actually not whales but the largest type of dolphin. They are carnivores, meaning they feed off of meat, hunting fish and seals among other animals, such as seabirds, sea lions, and squid. While it is true that orcas rarely attack humans, they are fierce predators in the wild, technically making them “killers”. They feed heavily on seals and sea lions, even hoisting their entire bodies upon ice sheets to snatch their prey with their teeth and drag them back into the ocean. Orcas sometimes feed on baby whales, even sperm whales (one of the largest mammals in the ocean with adults ranging in length from 50-60 feet).
Orcas hunt in deadly family groups, called pods, which allow them to use “cooperative hunting techniques that some liken to the behavior of wolf packs.” (NatGeo link below) When hunting sperm whales, for instance, some members of the pod work on distracting the mother whale and drawing her away from her baby, while the others attack the young whale until it dies and the mother leaves. The youtube video link below illustrates one such attack.
Killer whales can indeed exhibit vicious killing behavior toward their prey, but not all orcas may act in this way. In recent years scientists have noticed it is may be appropriate to identify 3 or more types or “races” of orcas, each of which have different diets and hunting behavior. That said, some orcas have been known to be very aggressive and simply, well, mean! A video caught by National Geographic a few years back revealed just how vicious they can be as a pod surrounded and killed a baby grey whale. The poor baby was forced away from its mother so the orcas could bombard, kill, and then consume the baby. Life is cruel, and not every orca is like Willy acts in the movie.
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