Orca or “killer whales” are the largest species of dolphin in the world, and can be seen around the coast of Scotland, particularly from the Orkney Isles and Shetland.  RSPB Scotland's Molly Martin shares five facts about orcas.

view out over sea with orca fin visible above water

Five facts about orcas

Orcas can weigh up to 6 tonnes and be over 9 meters long, but their aerodynamic shape and powerful body means their one of the fastest marine mammals, reaching up to 34 miles per hour, or 30 knots! 

Orcas are prolific hunters, working in groups to hunt their prey of other mammals such as whales and dolphins, birds, fish, and squids. Orcas are toothed whales, and each tooth can be up to 10cm long! 

Like other species of dolphin, orcas are very sociable, and live in large groups, which are called pods. Different pods have different hunting techniques; some are less aggressive and eat mainly fish, whilst others are more aggressive and target larger marine mammals. A pod of around 150 orcas can be seen from Orkney every year! 

view of orkney coast

Orca’s hunt and communicate using echolocation. This is where they send out a sound underwater and work out the distance and shape of the prey by listening to how the sound bounces back towards them.  

Individual orcas can be identified by the shape of their dorsal fin, and the white markings across their body.