False Killer Whale
killer whale is a mid-sized toothed whale (Odontocetes) that
measures about 5.3 m long for males and 4.5 m for females. It
is the second largest dolphin next to the killer whale (Boyd
et al. 1998). It weighs up to 1360 kg. The false killer whale
is a uniform charcoal grey almost black with slightly paler
areas around the throat and chest and the ventral line (see
Reeves et al. 2002 for an excellent description) and rounded
dorsal fin. Not much is known about this species. False killer
whales range widely in the ocean in all tropical and warm
temperate waters (Reeves et al. 2002). In the Pacific Ocean,
the false killer whale ranges from British Columbia to Chile
east to Australia and the Sea of Japan. It is not known if it
occurs in the central north Pacific or the temperate South
Pacific Ocean. The false killer whale is highly social and
gregarious - observations of stranded marine mammals are often
this species. The accompanying photo is of a lone individual
that likely lost its way and spent several years about the
southern Strait of Georgia near Vancouver, Canada. It showed
interest in boats and often accompanied them as they motored
about Point Roberts and Horseshoe Bay (Baird et al. 1989).
whales travel and forage in groups of 10 to 20 animals (Reeves
et al. 2002). Large assemblages numbering the hundreds also
occur. The whales sometimes form wide bands of individuals
across the ocean presumably searching for schools of fish
likely reflecting well developed cooperative hunting skills.
These small whales will kill dolphins (Perryman and Foster
1980, Brown et al. 1966) and have attacked sperm whales
(Palacios and Mate 1996) but they mostly eat fish and squid.
False killer whales often occur with other species of marine
whales have exceptional hearing and have performed best in
echolocation discrimination (Thomas et al. 1990, Nachtigall et
al. 1996). False killer whales utter ‘whistles’ in the 1.5-18
kHz frequency range and ‘clicks’ in the 25-130 kHz range (Kamminga
and van Velden 1987, Thomas and Turl 1990).
whales give birth infrequently and live many years. Gestation
is 15 months and calves measure 1.75 m at birth. Females nurse
their calves for up to two years. The sex ratio of stranded
individuals is about equal (Wilson and Ruff 1999). This
reproductive strategy is unusual among marine mammals most of
which breed every few years and wean their calves after one
The false killer whale is an abundant widespread species. A
few are taken for human consumption in the Caribbean and also
as incidental catch by gillnet and long line fisheries, and
purse seine fishery (Wilson and Ruff 1999).
Killer Whale facts:
IUCN Red List Status: Lower
False Killer Whale
Distribution & Migration
K.M. Langelier and P.J. Stacey. 1989. First records of false
killer whales, Pseudorca
crassidens, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist
D.K. Caldwell and M.C. Caldwell 1966. Observations on the
behavior of wild and captive false killer whales, with notes
on associated behavior of other genera of captive delphinids.
Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History Contributions in
Kamminga, C. and J. G. Van Velden. 1987. Investigations on
cetacean sonar II. Acoustical similarities and differences in
odontocete signals. Aquatic Mammals 82:41-62.
E., W.W.L. Au, and J. Pawloski. 1996. Low-frequency hearing in
three species of odontocetes. Journal of Acoustical Society of
and B.R. Mate. 1996. Attack by false killer whales (Pseudorca
crassidnes) on sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)
in the Galápagos Islands. Marine Mammal Science 12:582-587.
and T. C. Foster. 1980. Preliminary report of predation by
small whales, mainly the false killer whale, Pseudorca
crassidens, on dolphins (Stenella spp. and
Delphinus delphis) in the eastern tropical Pacific. NOAA
Report LJ-80-05, La Jolla, California.
Thomas, J. A. and C. W. Turl. 1990. Echolocation
characteristics and range detection threshold of a false
killer whale Pseudorca crassidens. Pp. 321-334 in J. A.
Thomas and R. A. Kastelein (eds.). Sensory abilities of
cetaceans: Laboratory and field evidence. Plenum, New York.
Thomas, J. A., J. L. Pawloski and W. W.L. Au. 1990. Masked
hearing abilities in a false killer whale Pseudorca
crassidens. Pp. 395-404 in J. A. Thomas and R. A.
Kastelein (eds.). Sensory abilities of cetaceans: Laboratory
and field evidence. Plenum, New York.
Wilson, D. E.
and S. Ruff 1999. Smithsonian book of North American mammals.
UBC press, Vancouver.