Orca Lifespan 101: How Long Do Orcas Live?

how long do orcas live

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Orcas, also known as killer whales are highly intelligent marine predators that are present in all oceans around the world.

Whilst most abundant in colder waters, they can be found roaming coastal waters and the deep blue in search of seals, sea lions, penguins, and octopuses to name just a few of their many preys.

These impressive mammals are highly social and display a range of complex behaviors, but equally as surprising is their lifespan.

In this post, we’ll explore the question of how long do orcas live and delve deeper into their average lifespans both in the wild and in captivity.

We will also take a look at the oldest orca to ever roam the earth and the many variables that impact orcas’ lifespan.

Let’s get into it…

How Long Do Orcas Live?

Orcas have a long lifespan that typically averages anywhere between 50 and 90 years old in the wild.

There are a number of factors that can impact the lifespan of orcas, including diet, habitat, prey availability, pollution, and disease.

how long do orcas live
Image by Amaury Laporte

Females can outlive males by as long as 20 years, and in general, orcas that live in the wild have a much longer lifespan than those kept in captivity.

Wild orcas are able to live happy, healthy lives and develop normal social behaviors, they’re highly social animals that are supremely intelligent.

In captivity, orcas are isolated and often stressed, and their diet is not as varied as it would be in the wild.

How Long Do Orcas Live In The Wild vs Captivity

For the most part, orcas live longer in the wild than they do in captivity.

This is largely down to the lifestyle they live in the wild, which is free, abundant, and one of the top apex predators.

In captivity, orcas do not have the luxury of freedom and may be lonely, stressed, and generally unhappy.

These magnificent animals are meant to live free in the wild, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their lifespan can be as much as halved when in captivity.


In their natural habitats, female orcas can live between 50 – 90 years with many reaching the top end of that spectrum.

Males on the other hand have a shorter lifespan that averages 30 years, only rarely reaching 40 years old.

Orcas are marine predators that feed on a varied diet of over 140+ species, which gives them all of the nourishment and nutrition they need to be healthy.

They eat seals, sea lions, squid, whales, dolphins, stingrays, and much more.


Orcas in captivity have a much shorter lifespan, with the captive orca lifespan averaging between 10 and 45 years.

Cramped conditions, strict diet, and lack of social interaction all play a role in the lifespan of captive orcas.

In fact, according to a study from the Journal of Mammalogy, the median lifespan for captive orcas was just 6.7 years old with a maximum lifespan of 29 years old.

Other studies have shown that captive orcas suffer from a range of health problems, including stress, collapsed dorsal fins, and tooth damage.

Whilst conditions in captivity can vary, it’s clear that orcas are better off living in the wild to live longer, more fulfilling lives.

Can Orcas Live 100 Years?

It is possible for orcas to live 100 years or more, in fact, the oldest known orca in the wild named Granny was reported to be around 105 years old when she passed away in 2006.

The exact age of orcas can be difficult to determine as they don’t have any visible signs of deterioration like other animals do.

The age of orcas such as Granny is estimated by the offspring, they give birth at around 15 years old and don’t stop until they are around 40, so by adding the generations together we can estimate their age.

Another orca known as J2 was estimated to be born in 1911 and died in 2016, meaning she too would have been 105 years old at the time of her death.

It’s truly remarkable how long orcas can live in the wild so long as they are free, happy, and healthy, as opposed to the median 6.7 years of captive orcas.

Orca Lifespan Threats

It’s not just being in captivity that can drastically shorten an orca’s lifespan, there are many other threats that cut wild orcas’ lives short.

Being caught in fishing nets, ocean pollution, and food scarcity from overfishing all can threaten the lifespan of an orca.

When prey is scarce in their normal habitats, orcas have been known to drastically change their diet, with some reports suggesting that they even eat moose from time to time.

how long do orcas live
Image by Ryan Lejbak

Ocean oil spills have also been known to kill orcas, such as the 1989 Alaska Exxon Valdez that resulted in the death of multiple orcas.

These types of threats can have an indirect effect on orcas, killing off the prey species in the area which means a lack of food for orcas to eat.

Vessel strikes, contaminants, and noise pollution are also a threat to these ocean predators.

Wrapping Up

So, how long do orcas live? Typically between 50 and 90 years in the wild, but their lifespan can be as short as only 6.7 years in captivity.

Orcas are highly complex, social creatures that we’re still learning a lot about, but what we know for certain is that their lives are shorter and more miserable in captivity than in the wild.

These predators are meant to be roaming the seven oceans in a family pod, hunting prey, thriving, and living their best lives.

Whereas in captivity, conditions are cramped, their diet is strict and they have little to no social interaction with other orcas.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post today and learn more about the lifespan of orcas.

See you in the next one.