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Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

Posted January 27, 2010 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

Killer whales, also known as orcas, are well-known for living in the off the west coast of the U.S. and Canada. They have been spotted in waters surrounding the U.K., too. In fact, researchers say that killer whales might be "at an early stage of becoming two species," according to a recent BBC article. The discovery was made by examining teeth accumulated from the remains of killer whales that had been stranded in the U.K. over the past 200 years.

Increasing numbers of killer whales have been found in U.K. waters and groups of up to 100 have been found off the coast. Scientists believe the whales moved to the area because the U.K.'s fish stocks are increasing.

Appearance Related to Diet, Size

Different forms of the whales have been found throughout the Pacific and Antarctic Oceans – their usual territories. However, two distinct types have been found around the U.K.:

  • Type 1 shows more tooth wear, typical of killer whales that eat herring, mackerel, and seals. These whales are usually found around the North East Atlantic and Britain, and live in closely-related pods.

  • Type 2 shows little tooth wear and probably eats a diet made up exclusively of dolphins and other whales. The males of this type of killer whale are about two meters longer than the other type. These whales are typically found around the west coast of Scotland and Ireland, and seem to be related to Antarctic killer whales.

The study is interesting to scientists because it shows how animals evolve to suit their environments.

Fast Facts

  • Killer whales, also known as orcas, are the largest member of the dolphin family
  • Male orcas grow to over 30 feet in length and weigh about 11 tons
  • A killer whale's dorsal fin can reach a height of six feet
  • Killer whales reach speeds of 30 mph
  • A pod is a pack of hunting killer whales
  • They are largely (no pun intended) to blame for the 40% population drop of Scotland's harbor seal between 2002-2006

Resources:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8440000/8440002.stm

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/6937675/Two-types-of-killer-whale-swim-in-UK-waters.html

http://current.com/items/91836797_two-types-of-killer-whales-found-in-uk-waters.htm

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/3353213/The-ultimate-predator-Sightings-of-killer-whales-in-British-waters-rising.html

http://coastalvoices.blogspot.com/2009/01/sightings-of-killer-whales-in-british.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/killer-whales-blamed-for-decline-of-scottish-seals-808640.html

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#1

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/27/2010 7:33 AM

Is it that they are becoming two species or that some have adapted to the readily available food supplies? Is what we see evolution of the species as one food source dwindles and those changes that help them prey on another?

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/27/2010 7:41 AM

According to researchers, both. Check out the first two links in the resources section for quotes.

Right now there are two distinct types of whales in the area based on diet and physical appearance. But apparently people think the whales could be on their way to being different species... obviously over a long period of time.

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#3

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/28/2010 4:59 AM

"They are largely (no pun intended) to blame for the 40% population drop of Scotland's harbor seal between 2002-2006" - yes blame the whales (or in the case dolphins) and don't mention the fishermen and fisherwomen who club the seals to death.

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#9
In reply to #3

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/29/2010 10:04 AM

I have a problem with that statement also. In nature population is usually controlled by available food sources. It's rare that a predators would reduce the population of prey to the point of no return without consequences felt on their own population leaving the preys population to rebound. The only specie I know that does that is man. We are the only specie that knows greed.

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/29/2010 10:07 AM

Perhaps I shouldn't have put it in the "facts" section - however, the information came from this article cited in the references section.

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/29/2010 11:49 AM

Hey Savvy

I'm not shooting the messenger.

I read the articles all of them. I even looked at others they related the stories to. Just have hard time believing that the killer whales are to blame. Seals are the natural prey of killer whales. It maybe that seal numbers have been reduced by other causes that now what they consume is 40% of the population.

A thought maybe they need to look at the population of other killer whales that now prey on fish. This subspecies that is emerging maybe taking some of the food supply that sustained greater number of seals.

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#4

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/28/2010 6:57 AM

Wait'll they get a taste for kayakers!

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/28/2010 7:03 AM

We all have to eat.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/28/2010 7:21 AM

Agreed! BC and Washington State could be the next Orca diners club! Should put a whole new spin on whale watching......

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#7
In reply to #4

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/28/2010 9:38 AM

Wait'll they get a taste for kayakers! -are you referring to the fishermen or the whales?

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Killer Whales Adapt to Kill

01/28/2010 10:48 AM

You must be a west coaster..........

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