I was very fortunate to see a pod of Killer whales (Orcas) last week in Lynn Canal, with an Orca calf swimming alongside older pod members. Both resident and transient Killer whales are found in Southeast Alaska waters. Residents are salmon specialists, and Chinook salmon makes up the majority of their diet, year-round. Transients are mammal-eaters, specializing on smaller marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins, and occasional calves or juveniles of larger species such as grey whales and humpback whales. In fact, the term “Killer whale” is derived from this type of killer whale, which is the only species of whale that kills other whales. Killer whales rely on echolocation to find their prey.
According to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, resident Killer whales live in a complex matriarchal society, in which sons and daughters stay with their mother throughout their lives, even after they have offspring of their own. These bonds remain strong between siblings even after the mother has died. In the resident assemblage, these family units are known as ‘matrilines’. A pod is a larger unit that is made up of one or more matrilines that travel together and may be related. A clan is a group of pods that share similar calls or dialects, indicating that they share a common ancestry and a more closely related to each other than to whales in other clans.