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Where Can You See Orcas in the Wild?

By Kevin Hellyer
Updated May 16, 2024
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Everywhere you go, you’ll find humans and brown rats. It’s just a fact of modern life. But there's another, much more surprising creature, that joins that group of widely-distributed mammals. It's the orca, also known as the killer whale.

Orcas can be found in every ocean on Earth, although they’re most plentiful in cold-water areas, such as the Pacific Northwest, along the northern Norwegian coast in the North Atlantic, and in the higher latitudes of the Southern Ocean. But orcas can also be spotted in areas of warm water, in places like Florida, Hawaii, Australia and the Gulf of Mexico. And on rare occasions, killer whales have been seen in fresh water rivers such as the Rhine, the Thames, and the Elbe. One was even seen pursuing fish 110 miles (177 km) up the Columbia River.

Extraordinary orcas:

  • Due to their huge geographic range, it is very difficult to estimate the global orca population, though scientists think that it's at least 50,000 individuals.

  • Adult orcas are distinctive-looking, with shiny black backs, white chests, and patches of white above and behind their eyes. They’re rarely confused with other dolphins or whales.

  • Orcas can see both above and below water, but it’s their echolocation skills that help them pinpoint objects in the water. They emit “clicks” and then listen for echoes to determine the size, distance, and shape of underwater neighbors.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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