Species

Killer whale

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  • Killer Whale (jumping) - Alaska
  • Killer Whale

Killer whale visits are rare and sporadic in the Gulf and in the Estuary of the St. Lawrence River.

In the North Atlantic, killer whales are apparently few in number and scattered.

Unconstrained by temperature or water depth factors, the killer whale is a cosmopolitan species which is present in all of the world’s seas and oceans.

Nevertheless, killer whales are observed to be concentrated in cold water areas with abundant food resources.

The killer whale of the Northwest Atlantic does not appear in the List of threatened or vulnerable species in Quebec.

The Northwest Atlantic and Eastern Arctic population is listed as “special concern” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s” (IUCN) List has listed the species as “data deficient”.

Killer whales have a highly varied diet, feeding on small schooling fish, squid, turtles, seals, seabirds, sharks, and rays, but also large rorquals and sperm whales.

Occasionally, they’ll even take a deer or moose that they catch as the latter are swimming across a channel.

Group members cooperate to harass and herd their prey like a pack of wolves or a pride of lions.


Illustrated species: (from high to low, from left to right): great black-backed gull, grey seal, salmon, spiny dogfish, thorny skate, herring, squid, leatherback sea turtle.


Killer whales can be observed alone or in groups.


Photo credit: GREMM

From a vocalization perspective, the killer whale is very active.

Its repertoire is vast: squeals, whistles, grunts, cries and clicks for echolocation.

Each family unit has its own dialect, which is used for communication between members and for group cohesion.

The killer whale is a rather fast and energetic swimmer.
It and can reach speeds of 45 km/h when chasing prey.

It is capable of aerial behaviours and exuberant leaps, practices spyhopping by holding its head above the water and its body straight down to the pectoral fins, and can even swim backwards.


Photo credit: Jean Lemire

Most of its dives seem to be within 20 m of the surface, although they may exceed 100 m.

Dive times are rather short (between 4 and 10 minutes) but can reach up to 20 minutes.

Killer whale forays into the St. Lawrence are exceptional and anecdotal. Research projects on this species are essentially conducted on the populations of the Northeast Pacific, in the Vancouver region of British Columbia, which is home to three very distinct populations in terms of appearance, behaviour and genetics (“resident”, “transient” (“Bigg’s”) and “offshore”).

For Atlantic Canada, a catalogue of data and photo-identification of killer whales in the Newfoundland and Labrador regions is managed by Dave Snow. This resource is available online on the website Atlantic Whales.