For anyone planning to embark on whale and dolphin tours, learning about the different species of cetaceans that may be encountered is an excellent way to prepare. For those visiting regions of tropical or warm temperate oceans, Pseudorca crassidens, the False Killer Whale, is a good place to start. Contrary to its name the species is in fact a member of the oceanic dolphin family. And, while they are not actually related to Orchinus orca (aka the Orca or Killer Whale), they do share some of their characteristics. |
Characteristics of Pseudorca crassidens
Physical appearance: The False Killer Whale is the world's fourth largest dolphin. Its slender, streamlined body is typically black or very dark grey, often (but not always) offset with a lighter grey neck and throat region. Males of the species can grow up to 20 feet in length, although the average is around 15-17 feet, and females are slightly smaller. They have a very strong, aerodynamic fluke (tail), a high-standing dorsal fin for stabilisation and pointed flippers. Their narrow tapered head has no 'beak', but they have teeth protruding from their upper and lower jaws.
Diet: While they subsist on a regular diet of squid, cephalopods and fish, it's not unheard of for the False Killer Whale to attack other marine mammals (one of the only cetacean species known to do this), including smaller dolphins and even other whales. It's not known if they do actually eat other marine mammals or if they attack in an effort to protect their food source from competition.
In Sir David Attenborough's nature documentary masterpiece, Blue Planet 2, the camera team captured nail-biting footage of predatory False Killer Whales approaching a pod of smaller dolphins. However, in a heart-stopping twist, the two species "greeted each other like old friends" and, in fact, they've even been known to travel long distances with other cetacean species.
Behaviour: The species is playful, energetic and curious, often approaching fishing vessels or whale and dolphin tours to provide a thrilling intimate encounter. They travel and socialise in large pods of up to 60, and these pods may combine to form a massive 'super pod' numbering in the hundreds. But the downside of their social nature is that they often beach themselves in large numbers as well.
Distribution: The species is widely distributed throughout the world's tropical oceans, although not in huge numbers. Not a lot of research has been done into their migratory habits, although it is known that, despite preferring the habitat of open ocean, they do sometimes venture into coastal waters. Sadly, much of the research that has been carried out has been collected from deceased, stranded specimens.
Threats to survival: As with most marine animals, the species' greatest threat to survival comes from Man. Along with the problems related to the fishing industry and ingestion of the vast amounts of plastic waste in our oceans, there is speculation that some instances of mass strandings could be as a result of man-made noise interfering with their echo location navigational abilities.
Encounter the False Killer Whale on Dolphin Tours
Professional whale and dolphin tours offer the truly memorable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a close encounter with this intriguing cetacean species. They also provide a valuable platform to raise awareness of the threats to our magnificent marine habitats and remind us that conservation is the responsibility of us all.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in whale and dolphin watching. As a passionate lover ofmarine wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led dolphin tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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