Orca Orcinus orca

Also known as the ‘killer whale’, the orca one of the top predators in the world’s oceans. The black and white pattern and enormous dorsal fin make the orca, if seen well, unmistakable. Males are larger than females and have much taller dorsal fins, sometimes up to 1.8 metres tall. The orca is actually the largest member of the dolphin family, with males reaching about the same size as four cars!


Orcas feed on fish, porpoises and, in Shetland and Orkney, on seals. When hunting, they often make coordinated attacks and will take on large whales in this manner.


  • Length: up to 9m
  • Weight: 2,500-6,000kg
  • Average Lifespan: 20-25 years


Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, listed under CITES Appendix II and classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Also protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998


A rare, summer visitor to the coasts of northern Ireland and western and northern Scotland. Particularly frequent around the Shetland and Orkney Islands.

When to see

January – December


  • Individual orcas can be identified by looking at the dorsal fin: the shape of the fin identifies males, females and juveniles (as well as individuals) and the greyish-white ‘saddle-patch’ just behind the fin is as unique as a fingerprint.

Common name


Species name

Orcinus orca

IUCN Red List status


When to see in Scotland

January – December

Where to see in Scotland

Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves such as the Isle of Eigg or Hill of White Hamars

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