WHALE IDENTIFICATION - BONAVISTA & TRINITY BAYS, NEWFOUNDLAND

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ORCAS

Picture by Wil van Stralen, July 26, 2008

HOW CAN I RECOGNISE AN ORCA?

Orcas or killer whales as they are more commonly known are the largest of the dolphin 'family' - we will use the term 'orca' or 'orcas' here as 'killer' can be a misleading term. They are perhaps the most recognizable of whales due to their distinctive black and white markings. Orcas are typical of all toothed whales in that males are larger than females with lengths ranging form 15-30 feet (5-10 metres). The males of this group have a distinctive large triangular shaped dorsal fin while females typically have a smaller and more sickle shaped fin. Orcas have very distinctive coloration - black with white markings around the eyes and a greyer patch behind the dorsal fin (saddle patch). By looking at these markings as well as the shape of the dorsal fin and any scarring the whale may have, we can distinguish one individual from another.

WEST COAST ORCAS

The orcas on Canadas Pacific coast are perhaps the best-studied and most photographed group of whales in the world. Several distinct pods have been identified, each individual in the pod is known and catalogued and it has been shown that each grouping of pods called 'clans' have their own distinct 'dialect'. It has also been discovered that there are two groups of orcas on the west coast - residents and transients. The major difference being that residents eat fish (especially salmon) and stay in a more predictable area while transients are meat eaters (e.g. seals) and more likely to roam.

'OUR' ORCAS

Many people who come to Newfoundland are surprised to hear that we have orcas here. It is assumed that they only travel off the West Coast. However, they have been known to travel most of the worlds oceans and seas. There is little known about Newfoundland's orcas since they are much less studied than those off the West Coast. However, when these animals are present, other whales seem to make themselves scarce. It should not be assumed that orcas stay in strict family groups - rather evidence shows that some move around from group to group. They seem to have no fear of boats and, indeed, are quite curious about them. If you are lucky enough to see them whilst you are in a boat be prepared for them to dive under the boat and/or ride the bow or outboard waves. If you check-out our humpback fluke records you will see evidence of orca 'attacks' as, for example, seen in the striations in the humpback fluke image on the right here, taken by Paul Dolk. Most recently (August 2010) in Trinity Bay, researchers witnessed a group of orcas feeding off of what appeared to be the body of a minke whale.

OUR RECORDS

Please 'click' here to see our orca records.

NAVIGATION

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Enjoy your orca watching off Newfoundland as we did in August 2010 in Trinity Bay when the orca group stayed in the area from 14th to 19th.

Shawna Prince

Whale Identification, Bonavista & Trinity Bays, Newfoundland (Unless stated otherwise)