What Makes Orca So Special? (in other words, why have a World Orca Day?)
As the top predator in the ocean, these iconic animals are not only truly fascinating, but they are also known as a ‘keystone’ species. This, among other things, means that they play a vital role in marine ecosystems. They are also known as an ‘indicator’ species, or a species that can tell us a lot about the health and well-being of an ecosystem.
Furthermore, orca are considered an ‘umbrella species’, because if we can protect them, then all the species and habitats that are part of their lives should come as part of the package. Therefore, if we do things right to protect orca properly those actions will also act as a layer of protection for the environment and the animals that live within it.
Orcas are known by many names across cultures and languages, such as killer whale, asesina ballenas, and kasatka. They are universally recognized in the scientific community by their Latin name – Orcinus orca, which roughly translates to “god of the underworld” or “demon dolphin.”
Despite being known as “killer whales,” orcas are actually the largest member of the dolphin family, classified under the category of Odontocetes, meaning “toothed cetacean.”
This classification acknowledges their unique characteristics, including the shape of their teeth. These giant dolphins bear a distinctive appearance with their robust bodies, striking black and white pattern, and a towering dorsal fin.
An interesting aspect of orca biology is the existence of various “ecotypes,” essentially distinct populations within the species. These ecotypes are typically characterized by differences in body shape, size, behavior, hunting strategies, and even social structure. Unique dialects of vocalizations are also observed among different ecotype populations.
While it’s challenging to accurately number the existing ecotypes due to a lack of comprehensive knowledge and recognition, some scientists have suggested as many as 22. However, there’s consensus that numerous others remain unexplored or unidentified.