Wildlife of The Week & Happy Fathers Day!
It’s week three of Wildlife of the Week, and it’s landed on a special day- Father’s Day! This Father’s Day we have decided to highlight a special marine mammal that we are sure many of you have heard of before… …the Killer Whale! Killer Whales are also known as orcas, and there are various ecotypes of orcas on this coast. If anyone has ever seen orcas in the wild, you might have noticed that some adults have tall dorsal fins, and some do not. Does anyone know why this is?
The answer is that adult males have tall and straight dorsal fins whereas females have shorter, curved fins. Take a look at this image of an adult male orca named L41, or “Mega”. This Father’s Day we reflect on this remarkable whale, who was a father to many Southern Resident Killer Whale calves throughout his life.
Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family. They are an agile, social and intelligent marine mammal. Orcas can be spotted in all Earth’s oceans, although they are most frequent in temperate and cool regions. Adult males may measure up to 32 feet long!
L41 is believed to have fathered 14 calves that survive to this day. L41, his family, his mates and his children would all belong to the fish-eating ecotype of orcas in the Salish Sea that feed primarily on Chinook salmon (the SRKW’s).
L41 and the SRKW’s do not appear to have a consistent breeding or birthing season, but breeding can often be observed during socializing and “reunions”.
Adult male orcas, like L41 was, do not assist in raising their own young but often assist with the care of younger whales, namely their siblings or the offspring of female siblings.
Orcas are almost always seen in family groups. In orca societies males typically stay with their mothers their entire lives. L41’s mother was L11. He was seen by her side until his disappearance and presumed death in early 2020.
A reason that we can tell L41 and his family apart (as with many other researched orcas), is mainly due to the individual distinctions between the whales. Dorsal fin shapes and sizes, saddle patches (behind dorsal fin) and eye-patch patterns can help us to identify one orca from another, as well as one family and ecotype from each other.
Orcas communicate in different dialects between pods and ecotypes; this can also assist in identifying a group.
Other ecotypes of orcas feed on seals, Sea lions, porpoise, dolphins, baleen whales, herring, penguins, sharks and squid; the orca has no natural predator in the oceans.
In remembering L41, it is also important to remember how critically these whales depend on the drastically reduced Chinook salmon populations. The SRKW’s are an endangered group of whales in contrast to the Biggs’ orcas of the Salish Sea. The latter population is thriving due to the abundance of seals and Sea lions. Five Star is passionate about advocating and supporting the recovery and protection of all populations of these amazing orcas.