For an animal with the word “killer” in its name, people tend to picture killer whales as gentle giants. Movies like Free Willy have managed to brand orcas as giant ocean puppy dogs, but the reality could not be any less adorable. Let’s face it, killer whales are jerks.
Despite what most people think, orcas tend to be much more like Jaws than Shamu. They are carnivores that use their intelligence and communication skills to dominate the ocean as apex predators. A group of aggressive orcas can take down any threat, and a few people have even been killed by these vicious monsters. So yes, most killer whales are mean killer whales. But that’s just nature, right? Surely killer whales aren’t actually sadistic a-holes who murder for pleasure and bathe in the blood of infants, right?
You might believe that, if you didn’t know all of these horrible killer whale facts that will make you think twice about swimming in the ocean. It’s not the sharks you need to worry about, but the massive marine mammals who will tear you limb from limb while laughing with glee.
As Apex Predators, They Can Basically Do Whatever They Want
Life as a killer whale basically means that there are no repercussions to any of your actions. Want to mess with a great white? Go for it. Thinking about taking on a blue whale, the largest animal to ever exist? No problem for these guys. It’s true, orcas will pick fights with blue whales for no reason other than the sheer thrill. They don’t intend to eat the whale, they just want to mess with it.
You have to be some kind of bad*ss to go up against a creature that can probably fit you inside of its mouth.
Some Native American Legends Paint Orcas As Total Jerks
While some native cultures paint orcas as healing spirits, at least one legend portrays the whales as the vengeful killers they are. The legend follows Natcitlaneh, a man with the power to bring his wood carvings to life. After his carving of an orca is animated, the two hit the high seas in search of adventure.
There, they find Natcitlaneh’s brother-in-law, a man who had punished Natcitlaneh in the past. Natcitlaneh’s whale destroys his brother-in-law’s canoe, leading him to a salty grave beneath the waves. Natcitlaneh banned the orca from ever hurting another person again, and it is believed in the Tlingit tribe that this is the reason orcas don’t attack people in the ocean.
They’re Camouflaged, So They Can Sneak Up On Prey More Easily
The coloring of killer whales effectively camouflages them from prey; light on the underside and dark on top, this pattern makes them less likely to be spotted in water. The Center for Whale Researchcompares their coloring to military airplanes, which are light on the underside and dark on the top, making them harder to spot from both below and above.
The black and white colors are also broken up in such a way that they look smaller and considerably less intimidating to prey, such as seals.
They’re Eerily Intelligent And Have Outsmarted Humans
Killer whales have the second largest brains among all ocean mammals. Scientists found that orcas are able to teach hunting techniques to their young as well as behaviors that can last for multiple generations. Sam Ridgway, a research veterinarian at San Diego’s National Marine Mammal Foundation, found that while orcas have less gray matter—which accounts for memory and thought processes—than humans, they have large myelinated axons, which carry nerve impulses. Ridgway says, “The bigger the axon, the faster the nerve impulses travel.”
Researchers now have evidence that whales may be able to learn how to “speak dolphin,” or learn how to imitate their vocalizations. Scientists at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute collected sounds from whales that were housed with bottlenosed dolphins and compared them to sounds from whales that didn’t interact with the dolphins. The orcas that interacted with dolphins produced more clicks and whistles than the whales that didn’t—they produced more lower-pulsed sounds.