Flipper To Food: Do Orcas Eat Seals?

do orcas eat seals

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If you’ve ever been lucky enough to see an orca in the wild, then you know that they’re an impressive sight.

These animals are undoubtedly some of the smartest on the planet and are known for their power, speed, and hunting techniques.

When it comes to food, orcas primarily feed on fish, penguins, whales, and even other dolphins, but what about seals? Do orcas eat seals?

In this post, we’ll delve deeper into the wonderful world of orcas and their relationships with seals, answering if they eat them, how many seals orcas may need to eat, and much more.

Let’s get to it…

Do Orcas Eat Seals?

Yes, orcas DO eat seals. In fact, seals are common prey for orcas as they’re so abundant in oceans all over the world and provide lots of calories thanks to their blubber.

Orcas have a diverse diet that consists of many marine animals, with seals being one of their primary and most reliable food sources.

do orcas eat seals
Image by NOAA Fisheries West Coast

But the specific type of prey orcas feed on will largely depend on their location as well as the time of year.

Killer whales feed on just about anything that has a pulse and swims, they’re opportunistic feeders that take whatever is available, including seals.

Do Orcas Eat The Whole Seal?

Due to the orca’s large size, they can swallow most of their prey whole, including small seals and sea lions.

But bigger seals are eaten in chunks. Orcas have a set of sharp, three-inch-long teeth that they use to tear the seals up into bite-sized pieces before gobbling them up.

However, for larger seal species that are unable to be swallowed whole, orcas may target specific parts of the seal, including their blubber which is rich in energy and nutrients, and organs.

After orcas catch the seal, they may shake the animal vigorously to remove the blubber and other prime cuts.

The rest of the seal will be left behind for the fish and other scavengers to pick up, including the skin, bones, and organs.

Which Type Of Seals Do Orcas Eat?

Orcas aren’t particularly fussy when it comes to the species of seal they eat, and they’re known to eat several species of seals.

Orcas are found in all oceans around the world, so the species of seal they eat will depend on their location on the planet.

Below are just some of the many seal species that orcas will eat:

  • Harbor seals
  • Grey seals
  • Elephant seals
  • Weddell seals
  • Bearded seals
  • Ringed seals
  • Harp seals
  • Leopard seals
  • Crabeater seals

How Many Seals Does An Orca Eat?

The number of seals an orca eats can vary on many factors, such as the size of the seal, availability of prey, and size of the orca pod.

The more individuals in the pod, the more seals they will need to catch to ensure they all have enough food to stay nourished.

A single orca can typically consume between 1 – 3 seals during a single hunting event, filling them up and giving them enough energy until the next hunt.

That said, it’s much more common for orcas to hunt in groups of as many as 50 individuals strong, when this is the case the orcas will work together to take down larger prey or hunt for more seals.

Large orca pods may skip seals altogether and instead hunt large whales such as humpbacks, fin whales, or even blue whales.

This type of prey provides a lot more food for the whole pod, allowing everyone to get their fill.

Why Do Orcas Eat Seals?

Orcas are apex predators of the marine ecosystem, and they need to eat seals as part of a high-energy diet to stay fit and healthy.

Because of the seal’s thick layer of blubber which keeps them warm in the water, it’s the perfect meal for orcas due to its high-fat content.

Seals are found along most coasts around the world and can often be found lounging on ice caps catching some rays.

Orcas are also found in waters all throughout the world, which makes seals a reliable food source for orcas and one that’s nutritious and abundant.

As orcas are opportunistic feeders, so availability of prey is a deal breaker for them, meaning if there are seals in the area then they will take advantage of the opportunity.

Do All Orcas Eat Seals?

Not all populations of orca eat seals, in fact, there are at least three distinct groups of orcas that have different diets and hunting preferences.

Resident orcas are an ecotype that primarily eats fish such as salmon, they are found in coastal areas and don’t incorporate a lot of seals into their diets, but individual preferences may vary and this cannot be said for all resident orcas.

Offshore orcas are another ecotype that typically lives in open waters and are much less studied than the orcas near the shore.

do orcas eat seals
Image by NOAA Fisheries West Coast

These orcas prefer to feed on sharks, fish, and tuna, and don’t often come into contact with seals.

Finally, transient orcas primarily feed on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, dolphins, and porpoises and are known for their stealthy hunting behavior.

Some of these ecotypes eat seals much more than others, but it largely depends on the availability of prey and if there are other preferred sources available.

Wrapping Up

To wrap up, seals for the most part are a large part of orcas’ diets as they are nutritious, abundant, and quite easy to catch for these predators.

Orcas have a varied diet that includes fish, seals, dolphins, stingrays, and much more, they’re excellent at adapting their diet to what is available.

Whilst some orcas such as the resident ecotypes feed mostly on fish and may not rely heavily on seals, they are still opportunistic feeders that would likely not pass up on a seal burger every once in a while.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you now have a clear answer to do orcas eat seals?

Yes. They certainly do.