Are Killer Whales (Orcas) Dangerous?

killer whales swimming side by side
© slowmotiongli/

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Updated: September 29, 2023

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Killer whales, otherwise known as orcas, are among the most popular whales found primarily in different oceans worldwide. These sea creatures blessed with attractive black skin with white patches are beautiful in the marine habitat.

Killer whales are highly intelligent marine mammals belonging to the suborder of toothed whales known as odontocetes. They are mainly distinguished from false killer whales with their distinctive body colors. Killer whales vary in size and body weight depending on the species. Interestingly, most species range between 20 and 26 feet in length and weigh up to 6 tons.

Generally, killer whales have an average wild lifespan of 50 to 60 years. However, some female species have been believed to outlive their male counterparts substantially. These female marine creatures begin to develop at age 10 and, by 20, reach their fertility peak. Surprisingly, their reproductive lifestyle can be likened to their female human counterparts, who reproduce until a certain age, followed by a rapid decrease in fertility (otherwise known as menopause).

Having talked a little about these marine mammals, let’s find out how dangerous they are and what makes them dangerous.

Are Killer Whales Dangerous? 

Apex predator: Killer whales

The killer whale is the most dangerous whale.


As their name suggests, killer whales are among the most dangerous and powerful predators among whales and other sea creatures. Some ancient sailors have observed these sea mammals hunting and preying on larger whale species (minke whale) and other animals on several occasions.

Killer whales have no natural predators and are most abundant in colder waters. Moreover, they can be found in tropical and subtropical waters. All killer whales are carnivores and are at the top of the food chain. Their diets range from fish, seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, sharks, rays, giant whales, octopuses, squids, and seabirds. Interestingly, these sea mammals, often referred to as sea wolves, feast on these meals in a group of deadly calculated pods (consisting of 40 individuals).

How Do Killer Whales Attack?

Killer Whale - Orcinus Orca

The killer whale’s size, swimming speed, and sharp teeth help kill its prey.

©Tory Kallman/

Several factors aid a killer whale’s hunting skills, considering they are among the most dangerous sea predators. Their body size, swimming speed, long, sharp teeth, and intelligent techniques help them stun their prey in the shortest possible time. Depending on the available sea meal, the techniques vary from region to region, as discussed below:

The Wave Wash For Seals

Since killer whales inhabiting the Antarctic ice shelf took seals as their favorite meals, they developed a technique to create deadly waves that kill several seals at once. The killer whales approach an ice floe in a parallel position while beating their flukes quickly to create waves that break the flow and wash the seals into water.

The Karate Chop For Sharks

Fascinatingly, the karate chop is one of the most profound tactics killer whales use in hunting sharks. Although sharks are also known as dangerous predators, killer whales still manage to add them as one of their favorite delicacies when they have difficulties finding less defensible prey in the ocean. One quick method employed by killer whales for shark hunting includes: using their tail to drive them to the surface of a watery vortex, raising their tails high into the air, crushing it down on the shark’s head, and quickly flipping the shark over, leaving it in a paralyzed state, and finally making a good meal out of them.

Unfortunately, killer whales see fish like herring as too small to be eaten individually. So what they do as a group is combine air bubbles and belly flashes to herd small fish into a tight ball near the water’s surface. Intriguingly, killer whales burst the ball using their tails for easy and massive consumption of these smaller fish.

The Blowhole Block

As dangerous sea predators, killer whales are known to hunt down much larger animals like the giant blue whale. These sea mammals take turns to plunge, bite, and pull on the whale’s pectoral fins to wear it out. Afterward, they jump on the whale’s back to hold its blowhole underwater. They surprisingly repeat this killing technique for several hours until the whale gets exhausted and is dead, consequently making it easy to feast on the blue whale’s dead meat.

Are Killer Whales Dangerous To Humans?

What do whales eat - killer whale teeth

Humans are not part of a killer whale’s diet.

©Heather Renee/

Killer whales are not typically dangerous to humans because humans are not part of their natural diet. Although these massive marine creatures are predatory, they don’t eat humans or try to attack them; at least, no casualty has been recorded.

However, killer whales have been aggressive towards themselves, other killer whales, and human keepers because they were kept captive. According to a report from BBC News a while ago, killer whales attacked, plunged, and caused damage to sailing boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal.

List of Animals Killer Whales Eat

Killer whales are carnivorous sea mammals; they attack other sea creatures by default. Their large body size, swimming speed, long, sharp teeth, and intelligence make them the most dangerous predator in the ocean, and fortunately, the ocean offers a lot of prey at their beck and call. Below is a list of water creatures on the menu of killer whales:

  • Penguins
  • Pigeon guillemot
  • Squid
  • Herring
  • Dolphins
  • Seals
  • Sea otters 
  • Harbor porpoise
  • Humpback
  • Salmon
  • Dugongs
  • Moose
  • Sea turtles 
  • Sea birds
  • Common scoter 
  • Minke whales 

How to Avoid Killer Whales Attack

When one spots a killer whale on the verge of attacking a boat or a yacht, it is advisable to do the following:

  • To stop the boat/ yacht and turn off the engines.
  • Please do not yell, touch, or throw things at them
  • Try to avoid contact. 
  • Contact the authorities as soon as possible.
  • Don’t jump into a tank with any whale in captivity if you are not a good trainer.
  • Do not intentionally assume the features of a  seal because they are one of the menus of these marine mammals.
  • Avoid hopping in the water with killer whales.

Are Orcas Smarter Than dolphins?

Young curious bottlenose dolphin looks at in the camera and smiles. Dolphin Selfie. Close up

Dolphins, known for their intelligence, may not be as smart as killer whales.

©Andriy Nekrasov/

Based on their creative methods for hunting down their prey and all the impossible-seeming tricks they can perform in water shows, it is easy to realize that killer whales must be among the most intelligent animals out there. But that begs the question: are they smarter than their dolphin cousins?

Well, first off, it is good to remember that orcas are members of the broader dolphin family, so the question is a little confusing. People who ask this are generally talking about orcas’ intelligence versus bottlenose dolphins’ intelligence.

Scientists developed a scale to measure intelligence as a rating. It is called the encephalization quotient, or EQ. This scale is determined by the size of a creature’s brain in comparison to its overall size. Humans land at a 7 on the scale, whereas non-killer whale dolphins come in at 4 to 5 on that scale. Orcas fall into an area close to the 2.5 mark, which would put them lower than other dolphins but more than chimpanzees.

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