British Columbia’s famous whale rubbing beaches draw tourists and scientists alike to the region each year. This mysterious habit is incredible to see in person, and will no doubt leave you with even more questions and curiosity about these unique creatures.

If you’re eagerly awaiting next summer and your visit to Sointula to see the whale rubbing beaches for yourself, keep reading. We’re bringing you 7 facts about orcas that you might not know.

1. Don’t Call Them Whales

Thanks to their unfortunate nickname and their size, it’s easy to understand why most people think that orcas are a species of whales. But while they might be closer in size to Minke Whales, they are actually closer relatives to bottlenose dolphins. That’s because orcas are actually the largest species of dolphins!

They aren’t the only species of dolphins that are incorrectly called “whales.” Long-finned and short-finned pilot whales also fall into the same category.

2. “Killer” Doesn’t Refer to Their Threat to Humans

Another common misconception about orcas is that they pose a threat to humans. While there have been attacks in captivity, there has never been a documented instance of an orca attacking a human in the wild.

In fact, the nickname, “Killer Whale,” began as a different nickname entirely. Sailors once called them “Whale Killers.” That’s because they witnessed the marine animals hunting other whales. 

Because orcas do not fare well in captivity and may become stressed, leading to them attacking their human handlers, this nickname has changed over time. While you should never try to interact with any marine creatures in their natural habitat, you don’t need to worry about orcas attacking if you do encounter one. That’s what makes the whale rubbing beaches and whale watching tours a great choice. You can enjoy a sighting of these incredible creatures, but without getting in the way of their natural behaviors.

3. Orcas Will Eat Just About Anything

Those early sailors weren’t imagining things when they thought that they saw orcas hunting other whales. These large creatures are fast and effective hunters, and there isn’t much that they won’t chow down on. They’ll hunt seals, sea lions, penguins, squid, sea turtles, and even sharks and small whales.

4. They’re Found in Every Ocean

British Columbia is a great place to go if you want to catch sight of an orca, especially if you plan a seasonal visit to the whale rubbing beaches. Because they prefer colder waters, many places that they are frequently seen are tough to reach, like the Arctic Circle. The Pacific Northwest is one spot that’s not only easy to visit, but also offers plenty of coastline for orca spotting.

While you’ll have more luck encountering an orca in British Columbia than most other destinations, the species is actually found in every one of the world’s oceans. There have even been sightings of them in warm weather destinations like the Bahamas, Hawaii, and the Gulf of Mexico, though these sightings are rare.

5. Orcas Have No Natural Predators

Orcas aren’t just at the top of the food chain because they are fast and effective hunters; they also have no natural predators. None of the marine animals that are large enough to hunt orcas are able to or want to.  Not even humans have a history of hunting them, mostly because they are so fast and because their bodies don’t offer nearly the amount of oil that hunters know they can get from other species, like the sperm whale.

However, pollution, boat traffic, and commercial fishing nets have threatened the species, making humans today a natural threat to orcas, just as they are to a variety of other aquatic creatures.

6. They Have Long Lifespans

With no predators, orcas have very long life spans. In the wild, females can live between 50 and 80 years. Males have a shorter life expectancy, with most living to between the ages of 29 and 60 years. But there have been documented instances of orcas living even longer, with one female living to the age of 103! Of course, in captivity, this life expectancy drops significantly.

7. More than 50,000 Call Our Oceans Home

Scientists estimate that there are around 50,000 orcas living in the wild today. That includes around 2,500 living in the North Pacific Ocean, where the population is well-studied and documented.

While not endangered, orca populations have seen a number of threats in recent decades. The ongoing effects of global warming and pollution have likely affected their numbers. Isolated incidents do as well. In 1989, for instance, the Exxon Valdez oil spill killed a number of the species from a small band of transient orcas living in the eastern North Pacific.

Set Your Sights on an Orca Sighting

If you’re dreaming of seeing an orca in the wild yourself, a visit to Sointula is a great choice. Start planning your summer 2022 visit today!