Need For Speed: How Fast Can Orcas Swim?

how fast can orcas swim

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Orcas, also known as killer whales are incredible animals. Notorious for their apex predator status and distinct appearance, these marine mammals are not to be messed with.

That is if you’re any of their 140+ prey species, which thankfully does not include humans.

They’re present in all oceans around the world but are most abundant in the icy water of Antarctica, Norway, and Alaska.

Killer whales can take down even the largest animal to ever roam the earth, the blue whale, and they do this by working together as a pod and chasing their prey down.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the speed orcas can generate while swimming and answer a common question relating to these predators. How fast can orcas swim?

The exact speed at which orcas can swill will vary on the individual, but orcas are capable of reaching speeds of up to 56km/h or 34.8 miles per hour.

Now that’s fast!

How Fast Can Orcas Swim?

Orcas are up there with the fastest marine mammals on the planet, capable of reaching speeds of up to 56km/h.

The speed of individuals may vary depending on factors such as the water temperature, age, and health of the orca, as well as the presence of prey in the area.

how fast can orcas swim
Image by jellybeanz

Naturally, baby orcas can not swim at the same pace as adults, but once the youngsters reach adolescence they quickly close the gap.

Why Can Orcas Swim So Fast?

One of the main reasons why orcas are able to swim so fast is due to their streamlined bodies which offer little resistance in the water.

This means they can cut through the water without much drag, allowing them to accelerate at reach speeds much faster than some other marine mammals.

Killer whales are also very large and powerful, they have a tail (fluke) that with a single push can propel them forward at high speed.

Orcas can be as large as 30 feet in length with a 6-foot dorsal fin and weigh in at a hefty 16,000 pounds.

Given that they’re almost pure muscle, you can see why they’re able to move through the water at incredible speeds.

They’re also very intelligent animals that love chasing down prey, so determined for the hunt they won’t let many animals escape their grasp when it comes to a race.

Orcas are fast, agile, and highly maneuverable in the water, so there’s not much that can escape them.

Which Is Faster Orca or Dolphin?

The Black marlin fish takes home the gold medal when it comes to the fastest swimming animals, clocking in speeds of up to 129km/h or 80mph.

But when it comes to orcas vs dolphins in a speed race, the common dolphin (delphinus delphis) would beat an orca as they can reach speeds of 60km/h or 37mph.

This is only just faster than orcas, and sometimes dolphins don’t win as orcas actively hunt and prey on them.

There’s a very small margin for error when a full-grown healthy orca is hot on your heels, and one slip-up can be the difference between life and death.

Both orcas and dolphins are incredibly fast, so the battle may come down to which individual is sharper on the day.

Can Orcas Swim Faster Than Sharks?

Shortfin mako sharks are the fastest sharks in the ocean, capable of reaching speeds of up to 35 miles per hour as they chase down prey such as tuna and bluefish.

Orcas could certainly keep up with a Shortfin mako shark, as they’re pretty much identical when it comes to top speed.

But orcas much prefer to feed on Great white sharks due to their fatty, calorie-dense livers.

Great whites swim at 25mph but can reach top speeds of 35mph for short periods, so even they are no match for out-pacing an orca.

Killer whales are faster than almost all sharks, it’s only the mako that only marginally takes the lead in a top-speed race, but orcas still feast on them.

In fact, these are just two of the nine shark species that some orca pods have been known to feed on.

Are Orcas The Fastest Swimming Mammals?

Orcas are not the fastest swimming marine mammal, this title belongs to the common dolphin that can reach speeds of 60km/h.

However, they’re a very close second and depending on the day and the individual animal they may unknowingly take first place.

But speed isn’t the only reason why orcas are so successful in marine ecosystems, they’re also highly intelligent, very adaptable, and live in family pods.

how fast can orcas swim
Image by Eric Ellingson

Orca pods are typically between 5 and 30 individuals but there can be as many as 100 individuals.

This is why orcas have the name “wolves of the sea”, as they work together to take down anything they please in the ocean, even the largest animal on earth, the blue whale.

Nothing gets in the path of an orca pod, they take what they want by outwitting and outnumbering their prey.

Wrapping Up

Orcas are truly fascinating animals, they’re truly dominant predators that have power, agility, and speed on their side.

When at full throttle, orcas are capable of reaching speeds of up to 56km/h thanks to their streamlined and powerful bodies.

This gives them to second faster marine mammal title, second to that only of the common dolphin that edges the win by 4km/h.

Killer whales have all attributes needed to be successful in the ocean, which is why they’re so abundant and found in every ocean on earth.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post today and learn more about how fast orcas are.

See you in the next one.