Social Behavior
Phylogenetic Tree


Social Behavior

Like all other dolphins, Orcas are very sociable. 

Relationships with other Orcas
Orcas live in groups called pods.    They have very strong relationships with the other members of their pods.  It is like their family.  The pods are matriarchal, meaning that they are led by a female.  Usually the oldest female within the pod is the matriarch.  It consists of several generations from the same matriarch line or closely related martri-lines.  Pods that have common ancestor and similar dialects are considered a clan.  Clans that associate regularly and share the same habitat range is called a community.  There is little aggression between the within or between the communities, which is ironic due to their superior ability to hunt.

Orcas are very curious animals.  There are several accounts of them "putting on a show" in the wild.  Some of the common actions that Orcas do are:

  • Breeching: jumping out of water and landing on side
  • Lob-Tailing: slapping flukes on the surface of the water
  • Spyhopping: hanging with head outside of the water
    An orca spyhopping, Scott Ableman
    A captive Orca spyhopping by Scott Ableman.


For transient Orcas, their pods usually consists of two to six Orcas, though it is not uncommon to see them traveling alone.  Resident Orcas travel in pods of ten to forty.  Resident and transient pods seem to avoid each other and an interaction between the two types has never been recorded. 

Many researchers believe that communities are also bound to each other by "cultural" similarities.  One of these cultural similarities is that each pod has its down dialect for communication that differ by pitch, pattern, and number of calls used.  Pods will recognize the different dialects of other pods but still within the same community.  They are like accents.  Evidence of this can be seen in the reactions of other animals to the calls.  When mammals that would normally be targets of transient Orcas hear the calls of resident Orca, they do not react.

Orcas and Other Organisms
Orcas have a very complex relationship with other organisms that is not completely understood.  There have been documented instances of some aquatic organisms that can be prey to Orcas swimming along with the pods (ex. whales, dolphins, porpoises). 

Orcas also interact with humans, some regularly.  There are countless stories of divers who get nudged by Orcas in the wild, probably just to see what they are doing.  Orcas are also kept in captivity.  They are easily "domesticated" and can taught to do tricks on command.