SeaWorld September 12, 2018
Orcas are well-known for their beautiful black and white skin, grace while swimming and gentle manner around humans. However, there’s far more to these amazing sea animals than we think. We’re diving beneath the surface and dishing out orca facts that show how intelligent they really are.
Q: How smart are orcas?
A: Among all ocean mammals, orcas have the second-largest brain. Their brains can weigh up to 15 pounds. In fact, scientists are amazed and baffled by how orcas are able to teach each other special hunting techniques, learn the local dialects of other orcas and pass on their behaviors from generation to generation. The only other species to display behaviors as impressive as these is, well, us.
Q: Are orcas smarter than humans?
A: By analyzing the ratio between brain weight and body weight to measure intelligence, specialists discovered by that measure, that human brains, in comparison, are seven times average. Orcas’ brains are 2.5 times average, comparable to chimps. However, scientists believe orcas are far smarter than their brain size dictates. For example, it’s been observed that orcas have developed cultures, like us, which means they behave differently than a species who’s behavior is determined by genetics. Research has also found that an orca’s brain has a smaller cerebral cortex than a human’s, but has large-diameter myelinated axons. Their brain is like a big computer with less memory, but makes up for it with big wires for faster nerve impulse travel.
Q: How do orcas communicate?
A: Orcas produce sound for two reasons: to communicate with each other and echolocation. Their sounds come in the form of whistles, echolocation clicks, pulsed calls, pops and jaw claps. Killer whales whistle at a frequency range from about .5 to 40 kHz, with energy peaking at 6 to 12kHz. The most common vocalization among killer whales are pulsed calls. Experts believe these calls are ways for a group to recognize each other and coordinate behavior.
Q: Do orcas have their own languages like humans do?
A: They’re not so much languages as they are dialects, and the dialects between pods of orcas varies greatly. While no two pods share the exact same dialect, they can associate with each other through sharing certain calls. Those pods are called a clan. Dialect changes with orcas are similar to how the language of humans varies by geographic location. An analysis of Icelandic and Norwegian killer whale pods showed that Norwegian whales made 23 different calls while the Icelandic pods made 24, none of which were the same.
Q: Are orcas smarter than dolphins?
A: Technically speaking, orcas are dolphins. When it comes to how smart they are, both display an amazing capacity to learn, share behaviors with their own and possess incredibly complex communication systems which includes echolocation. If intelligence were based entirely on brain size, there’s no disputing that an orca brain is larger than a dolphin brain.
As you can see, orcas aren’t so black and white. Their intelligence should not only be admired but highlighted as one of their most distinguished features. Witness these amazing marine animals up close here at SeaWorld Orlando and see how they strategically soak everyone in the splash zone.