Orcinus orca


Also known as the 'Killer Whale', the Orca one of the top predators in the world's oceans; they feed on fish, porpoises and, in Shetland and Orkney, on seals. When hunting, they often make coordinated attacks and will take on large whales in this manner. The Orca is actually the largest member of the dolphin family, with males reaching about the same size as four cars!

How to identify

The black and white pattern and enormous dorsal fin make the Orca, if seen well, unmistakable. Males are larger than females and have much taller dorsal fins, sometimes up to 1.8 metres tall.

Where to find it

A rare, summer visitor to the coasts of northern Ireland and western and northern Scotland. Particularly frequent around the Shetland and Orkney Islands.


When to find it

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

How can people help

Orcas are threatened by hunting, prey depletion and disturbance from boats. As a top predator, they are also susceptible to the build-up of chemicals in the food chain. The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas', where marine wildlife thrives. This work has recently had a massive boost with the passing of the Marine Bill, promising sustainable development of the UK's marine environment. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.

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Species information

Common name
Latin name
Orcinus orca
Seals, turtles and other marine mammals
Length: up to 9m Weight: 2,500-6,000kg Average Lifespan: 20-25 years
Conservation status
Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, listed under CITES Appendix II and classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Also protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998