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The Orca (Orcinus orca) is the largest member of the dolphin family, and the undisputed apex predator in the sea. Found in all oceans, it is one of the most widely distributed and intelligent animals on earth. Highly social and adaptable, it is an incredibly resourceful predator, noted for its ability to improvise. Their diet extends to several hundred known species, ranging from other marine mammals, including large whales, to fish, birds, and even turtles, making it more diverse than any other whale of dolphin.

Incredibly powerful, mature adult orcas often exceed 32 feet (10m) in length, and 10 tonnes in weight. Mature males are conspicuous by their tall dorsal fins which are often up to 6 feet (2m) tall. Mature females are marginally smaller at 28 feet (8m) and 7.5 tonnes. Males reach sexual maturity at about 19 feet (6m) in length and live on average for 29 years in the wild, while females reach sexual maturity at about 16 feet (5m) in length and live longer, often reaching 50. Sadly being at the top of the food chain orcas are particularly susceptible to industrial pollutants, and the population in the north east Pacific have been found to have the highest known residual levels of PCB's of any organism on earth. There is some speculation that this has some bearing on females living significantly longer than males, as tragically females pass on some of these toxins to their calves whilst in the womb, and in their milk. Most calves are born between October and March after a gestation period of 12-16 months, and are 6-8 feet (2-2.5m) at birth.

Orcas live in close family pods arranged along matriarchal lines. In Canadian waters a clear distinction is made between so called "resident" and "transient" pods, though both co-exist in the same areas, though never mixing, and follow well worn migratory paths which strictly speaking means both are transient, and neither are resident.

The resident pods that frequent British Columbia's coastal waters contain up to 50 individuals consisting of a dominant female, all of her offspring, and those of her daughters and possibly granddaughters. Males stay with their mother for the duration of her life, leaving the pod only temporarily to mate with females from other pods. These resident pods are strictly fish eaters, following both the herring and salmon runs, and are without doubt the most studied whale population on earth. As a result extensive data is available about these pods and the individuals within them, and most can be reliably identified from their dorsal fins or distinctive markings. Even their genealogy is well known. They are among the most vocal orcas anywhere in the world, and each pod has been found to have its own dialect, such that some marine biologists can identify what pod an individual belongs to from its calls. Transient pods tend to be smaller, generally containing no more than 7 individuals, and far less vocal. Unlike their resident cousins, they prefer to prey on other marine mammals, typically dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions, but also minke and other baleen whales. There is little or no interaction between the two groups, and resident orcas are known to adopt an aggressive defensive stance when transients are in the same area, particularly when calves are present.

On a Bear Trails tour Orcas can be observed in Northern BC from May to mid July, and off northeast Vancouver Island from mid July to November. Transient orcas are also sighted off the west and south coasts of Vancouver Island throughout the year.

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