All whales are dolphins but not all dolphins are whales!
False Killer Whales
The false killer whale can grow up to 6 metres long and weigh up to 2,200 kg! They have long slender black or dark grey bodies and a narrow pointed head (no beak) with a prominent bulbous (melon) forehead.
| Photo from Instagram user @michelledrevlow, September 12th 2019
They can be found throughout the tropical and subtropical oceans around the world. These are one of the most friendly dolphins species, they are incredibly social and playful and have even been known to offer divers food! They bound around the ocean in pods of 10 to 40 dolphins and have been spotted joining with other pods to form 'superpods' featuring hundreds of individuals.
Why are False Killer Whales Endangered?
Whilst the over all IUCN Red Listing for false killer whales is listed as Data Deficient the Hawaiian Island false killer whale population is listed as endangered.
They are greatly impacted by the ongoing overfishing practices which are leaving less food in the ocean for these dolphins. With fewer fish available there is more cross over between false killer whales and fishing fleets which has led to an increase in death by bycatch, as well as the dangerous ghost fishing gear that continues to capture and kill marine wildlife for decades after it is lost or discarded at sea.
In January 2017 there was a mass stranding of false killer whales on a remote shoreline in Florida’s Everglades National Park. NOAA reported that 95 false killer whales stranded themselves on the beach and 82 of them died. One of the largest mass stranding ever recorded was back in 1946 where 835 false killer whales beached themselves on Argentina’s shores. There is no definitive reason for many of these mass strandings, but some speculated theories are the impact of algae blooms, noise pollution that disorientates pods or collisions with ships. Because their pods are so close knit it may explain why they would just follow one another into danger.
False killer whales are also the target of hunters. As we have talked about before the Taiji Dolphin hunts target a few different species including the false killer whale, in the 2020/ 2021 season the quota that was issued permitted 49 false killer whales to be taken & killed.
5 Facts about False Killer Whales
False killer whales typically eat fish and squid but they have been know to go after other marine mammals such as smaller dolphins. They have even been known to attack humpback whales and sperm whales, although researchers aren't sure if this is because they are after food or just getting rid of competition for their prey.
They have been seen hunting at night and will even share their food with other members of their pod.
A mother false killer whale will nurse her calf for up to two years, during this time she will teach her young everything it needs to know about being a dolphin.
As with many species, the females live longer than the males, with the oldest female clocking in at 63 years old whilst the oldest male reaches 58.
These dolphins are excellent divers as they actually prefer deeper waters at about 15,420 feet!
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1] Whale & Dolphin Conservation - FALSE KILLER WHALE
2] Oceana - False Killer Whale
3] National Geographic - 82 Dolphins Die in Mysterious Mass Stranding - Michael Greshko, January 17th 2017