Intelligent Predators: Are Orcas Friendly?

are orcas friendly

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Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family, weighing up to 16,000 pounds and reaching up to 30 feet in length.

These apex predators have a menacing appearance, coated in all black with only white eye patches, as well as a dorsal fin that can reach up to 6 feet.

They can strike fear into those that come across them in the wild but is this fear justified? And more importantly, are orcas friendly?

In this post, we’re going to cover this topic in-depth and answer that specific question, as well as if it’s safe to swim with orcas, if they attack humans, as well as if are orcas aggressive towards humans.

Let’s get into it…

Are Orcas Friendly?

It may come as a surprise to many, but orcas ARE indeed friendly toward humans and pose very little risk to humans when encountered in the wild.

Whilst they are curious about humans and may swim up to people at times, they are not interested in causing us harm.

This is largely because humans are not part of their natural diet, and we’re not exactly a nice meaty meal for these carnivores.

are orcas friendly
Image via Flickr by Victoria Hoete-Dodd

Instead, orcas feed on marine mammals such as seals and penguins, but they also feed on fish, stingrays, and many other aquatic animals.

Whilst it’s always important to be vigilant and extremely cautious around wild animals, including orcas, they pose very little safety concern due to their supreme intelligence.

Orcas seem to be aware that we too are highly intelligent, sentient beings, well… most of us are anyway.

Are Orcas Aggressive Toward Humans?

You’ll be glad to know that orcas are NOT aggressive toward humans, in fact, there has been no record of an orca killing a human in the wild.

So whilst these animals may look intimidating when encountered, they are very little threat to humans.

Orcas in captivity have been responsible for four fatal attacks on humans, but of those four attacks, three of them were by one single orca.

This number is very low when compared to other predators, and being in captivity causes these animals an enormous amount of stress and concern.

Even whilst in stressful positions, captive orcas do not attack humans willy-nilly, and it’s very rare for these animals to “snap” and attack.

Despite the orcas fierce reputation as apex predators, they are only interested in animals that provide them with nutrition.

Humans are off the menu.


Why Do Orcas Not Attack Humans?

There are a couple of interesting theories around why orcas don’t attack humans, with the most plausible being that they are quite picky eaters and only eat what their mothers teach them is safe.

Since humans are essentially a bag of bones in a skin sack, it’s likely that orca mothers never taught their young that we were prey.

But we’re also terrestrial, so orcas rarely come across humans and therefore we would be an unreliable food source for them.

We know that orcas are some of the most intelligent animals on earth, and another interesting theory is that they recognize that we too are intelligent and therefore leave us alone.

Killer whales have ever been witnessed helping humans when they are struggling in the water, despite us never helping them in any way.

In fact, humans used to hunt orcas for their meat, so it’s interesting that they leave us alone and will go out of their way to help humans.

It’s clear that orcas tend to have a universal rule, that is don’t attack humans. But the reasons for this rule being in place are still unknown.

Is It Safe To Swim With Orcas?

Orcas in the wild are generally safe animals to swim with, and I urge anyone from my audience to take the opportunity with both hands if they ever get the chance.

However, there are very few places in the world where swimming with orcas is actually possible, including New Zealand, Costa Rica, Canada, and Norway.

Then coming across a pod of orcas may prove to be difficult, so you’ll need to be with a professional guide that can walk you through the process and keep you safe.

It’s not something that you can just do on your own, as doing this may put yourself and others at serious risk.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a position where you can swim with orcas, you should always remember that these are wild, HUGE mammals.

orca swimming
Image via Flickr by Eric Ellingson

One flick or bite could rip you to shreds in a second, and you would quite literally be “like a fish out of water.”

Despite orcas being relatively safe to swim with, they still need to be treated with an enormous amount of respect, and given the space, they need to feel comfortable.

Certainly don’t go swimming directly up to a pod of orca or try to touch them, this could be seen as a threat or intimidation which may provoke a reaction.

Be careful, respectful, and ALWAYS have a professional guide with you.

Wrapping Up

Orcas are some of the most fascinating animals we have on earth, large, powerful, and exceptional hunters that can take on even the biggest sharks.

They’re highly complex social beings that have a tight family bond and stick together for all of their lives.

They raise their young, mourn the dead, take care of their sick and so much more. It’s VERY unlikely that you would ever be attacked by an orca in the wild.

If you are ever lucky enough to swim with these magnificent animals, be present, calm, and enjoy the magical experience.

I hope this post helped reassure you that these top ocean predators are indeed friendly, but that doesn’t mean they should be underestimated by any stretch.

Always be careful around orcas in the wild, if they feel under threat in any way they could react, so be sure to keep your distance and stay safe.

Thanks for reading.