The False Killer Whale develops long-term social bonds and has been known to share prey with its companions.

False Killer Whale group underwater, Hawaii   © Flip Nicklin

Despite its name, the False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens) is not a close relative of the Killer Whale or orca (Orcinus orca). The name of the False Killer Whale instead comes from a similarity between the skulls of these two species which are both members of the dolphin family Delphinidae. Theories exist about the name “killer whale”, which could have derived from sailors and whalers observing that Orcas (the real killer whales) frequently killed whales and ate them and thus they were known as “whale killers”, which eventually morphed to “killer whales”.

False killer whales have also been observed with similar hunting behaviour attacking other dolphins, humpback or sperm whales, but their usual diet consists of smaller squid or fish.

The body of the false killer whale is almost uniformly dark grey to black, with the exception of faint grey marks on the heads of some individuals and a whitish chest patch between the flippers. Females grow up to 5m and males can grow over 6 metres in length.

The false killer whale is a highly social species, usually forming groups of between 10 and 50 individuals of mixed sex and age. However, these may occasionally merge into large groups of several hundred animals, which can also intermix with other common dolphin species such as the bottlenose dolphins.
Individuals appear to communicate extensively by producing an incredibly diverse array of clicks and whistles. Sound is also utilised by the false killer whale in the form of echolocation, which is used to sense its environment and locate prey.
The false killer whale has been found to develop long-term social bonds and to share prey with its companions, or even sometimes with humans.
Some individuals in Hawaiian waters, where this species is observed regularly, are known to catch and offer fish to human snorkellers and divers.

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