What Do Killer Whales Eat?
The killer whale has a varied diet consisting mainly of fish, squid, walruses, sea turtles, sea lions, otters, polar bears, sharks, reptiles, octopus and other whales. The variety of this diet and the feeding habits of the killer whale or orca will depend on where it is and what time of the year it is.
About Killer Whales
Killer whales, an apex predator, are considered as a single species but recent genetic evidence suggest that they may have multiple species. What is known for sure is that, they can be grouped into 4 distinct types or race, Type A, B, C and D.
Four different types of Killer Whales and their physical differences.
Orcas need a lot of food
The average adult killer whale needs around 500lbs of food each day, so these animals need to spend a lot of their day hunting prey. It’s estimated that the orca spends around 60% of its day looking for and eating food. Very occasionally, land mammals are found in the guts of killer whales, and it seems that they’re not above cannibalism, as there have been isolated cases of killer whale parts being found in another orca! It’s not clear why this should happen, as it is very rare.
How do they hunt for food?
Killer whales have a complex social structure, and this is often used to hunt food. Groups or pods of whales work together to herd small prey into a confined space or take down individual larger animals. In the case of herding, the smaller animals are crowded into a controlled area and the pod members take turns at picking out a snack.
Herding is quite a complicated process
The pod surrounds a group of fish or smaller animals, and slowly closes in on them, forcing the shoal members to crowd in together. Once concentrated enough, the orca take turns to travel through the shoal and eat as much as possible. Packing the fish in makes this process faster and more efficient.
Do they change their diets?
Killer whales are quite happy to change their diets according to location and season, and adapt to different foods very quickly.
How about larger animals?
When it comes to larger prey animals, there’s little point in using herding. Instead, the orca will use their tails or flukes to kill or immobilize the animal. Once the prey is dead or unconscious, the whales tear chunks off it with their large teeth and swallow the meat whole.
Killer whales digestive system
As the whales don’t chew their food, it’s up to their stomachs to do all the digestion. The first part of the whale’s stomach crushes the food further, before the second and third sections take care of the chemical digestion.
How about water?
Killer whales don’t have access to freshwater, and so will drink sea water. Their kidneys are adapted to remove the salt, thus keeping the whale’s body hydrated.
So, killer whales eat:
- Fish like salmon, cod, hake and halibut. They’re happy with surface and bottom fish.
- Mammals such as seals, baleen whales, sea otters and walruses.
- Birds including penguins and other seabirds.
- Occasionally, they will eat various types of sharks and sea rays.
Did you know?
Killer whales are more closely related to dolphins than they are to whales. In fact, they belong to the oceanic dolphin family.
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