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How Did the Killer Whale Get Its Name and Other Orca Facts

Why is the killer whale named killer, and is it dangerous to humans?or

What is a killer whale, and how did it get its name?  Is it dangerous to humans?

The Orcinus orca is the scientific name for what most people know as the killer whale.  They are sometimes referred to as orca or blackfish.  They are a large member of the dolphin family.  Dolphins are usually thought of to be gentle with humans as some people even pay high prices to swim alongside a dolphin.  This large member of the dolphin family, the killer whale, got their name from the Spanish term, ballena asesina which translated into English is killer whale.  It is thought that Spanish sailors named them when observing their behavior of killing other whales for food.  The terrifying sight made an impression on these sailors as they named them "killer."  The term Ornicus also has it's roots in death as it means "of or belonging to the kingdom of the dead," with the term Orca coming to mean "whale that brings death," and is similar to the name of a Roman god of the underworld.  The term blackfish is self explanatory as the whale's markings are largely black on top and white underneath.

They eat a variety of sea life including herring, salmon, tuna, squid, sea turtles, rays, sharks, seals, sea lions and have been even been seen killing other whales for food.  They sometimes travel in groups to hunt for food in the form of ocean prey.  They will sometimes hold their prey upside down under the water rendering them helpless or until they suffocate (if the victim needs to come up for air such as some species of sharks).  Or, they may slap, head butt, throw in the air or otherwise attack their prey.  They are sometimes referred to as wolves of the sea.

While this aggressive behavior has been spotted in whales in their natural environment, they are not usually thought of as being overly dangerous to humans.  Captivity, however, has been shown to change the typical characteristics of the killer whale.  It has been noted that in many males, their dorsal fins eventually collapse when kept in captivity, life expectancies are drastically reduced by decades when kept captive; and, captive whales have been witnessed being aggressive toward other whales, themselves and their trainers.  While killer whales are typically not harmful to humans in their natural wild habitat, there have been several deaths to trainers of these whales when kept in captivity.

Because the killer whale is a strikingly beautiful creature who trains well and can put on a show for crowds of people, they have become popular to capture or breed in captivity and put on display mostly in aquatic theme parks across America.

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