The killer whale (Orcinus orca), also called by some by the Latin word orca, is the largest member of the dolphin family Delphinadae. Their coloration is a striking pattern of black and white: they are black except on their undersides, a large white patch above each eye, a white swoop from their belly to the middle of their sides, white underside on their tail flukes, and a pale grey "saddle patch" behind the dorsal fin.
The name "Orca" was derived from the Latin name orcinus orca, which was assigned to the species at a time when the species was considered a menace and a danger to man, and was often shot by fishermen. Orcinus orca, loosely translated, means a kind of whale of or belonging to the realms of the dead, but some have stated the translation to be closer to devil whale. Researchers seldom use the term Orca and some have even been reported to have corrected people from using the name due to its origin.
In the area around Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada, studies of the killer whale populations began in 1973. These studies include the important technique of photo-identifying individual whales by means of distinctive physical characteristics of the animal's dorsal fin and saddle patch area such as an oddly-shaped dorsal fin, markings or scars (Ford et al, 29-30). Current understanding is of three distinct populations: residents, transients, and offshores, which have different ranges, typical behaviour, and to some extent physical characteristics.
- Ford, John K. B., Graeme M. Ellis and Kenneth C. Balcomb. Killer Whales: The Natural History and Genealogy of Orcinus orca in British Columbia and Washington State. Vancouver, B.C.: University of British Columbia Press, 1994.
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