Orcas in Sitka, Alaska
Sitka has been home to Russian, Tlingit, and American inhabitants for years. The cultural influences of all 3 tribes remain in the region. The beautiful village of Sitka is situated between magnificent mountains and the glorious sea, where art and native culture is still alive and well.
Sitka, Alaska’s bountiful, serene waters are home to many gentle giants, including sea lions, porpoises, bald eagles, gray whales, humpback whales, and orcas. Sitka, Alaska, has over 89 living species of whales that can be separated into two parvorders.
The first is the Mysticeti or the baleen whales, consisting of the gray whale, minke, and humpback whale. The second category is the toothed whales and comprises around 70 species, including the porpoise, sperm whales, and killer whales, most commonly called Orcas.
The largest of the dolphins, orcas are the most powerful predators on Earth. They can be instantly recognized by their noticeable black-and-white color. Orcas are intelligent and friendly creatures who make a wide range of communicating noises, that are distinctive to each pod so that its members can distinguish them from afar. They hunt and communicate by echo-sounding, which involves creating underwater sounds that travel until they hit objects, then bounce back to indicate their size, shape, and location.
Why are Orcas Called Killer Whales?
It is ironic why such social creatures are named killer whales when they have never even attacked humans. Their name was originally known as “whale killer,” because Orcas were observed hunting in groups to kill whales much larger than their own size.
Orcas are excellent predators and rest at the top of the food chain and are hunted by no animals except humans. Killer whales eat a variety of prey, including seals, fish, marine birds, squid, and have been known to kill swimming deer and moose. They are also the only species known to prey on the great white shark.
Orcas catch prey using a variety of methods. They occasionally beach themselves to grab seals on land, jumping from the water onto the ground. Orcas will often team up to grab larger animals or groups of animals, such as fish schools. Transitory pods favor sea mammals, while resident pods prefer fish. The effective and cooperative hunting strategies of orcas have often been related to wolf pack behavior.
Living Behavior of the Orcas
Orcas are gregarious animals that dwell in pods of up to 50 individuals. These matrilines, or pods, are made up of linked mothers and their descendants. A male killer whale will stay with his mother for the rest of his life, whereas girls may leave after having their own calves. Each pod has different calls or dialects used to communicate with one another, but they can interact with other pods and even create bigger, transient groups.
Every 3 to 10 years, a female orca will give birth to one offspring. The gestation period is normally around 17 months long. Orcas care for their young together, and other young females in the pod frequently assist in upbringing. Female killer whales live for over 50 years; however, some have been known to live for up to 100 years. Males have a shorter life expectancy, with an average of 29 years and a maximum of 60 years.
Apart from humans and probably brown rats, Orcas are the most geographically dispersed creatures. They can be found in every ocean on the planet and have evolved to various climates, ranging from the warm seas near the equator to the cold waters of the South and North Poles. Orcas have been noticed traveling great distances. For example, one study revealed that a pod of Orcas traveled over 1,200 kilometers from the waters off Alaska to waters near California.
Orcas in Alaska
Orcas freely travel between the two hemispheres. During the springtime, as the ice melts, Alaskan Orcas migrate north over the Bering Strait. When the ice advances in the Beaufort and Chukchi areas in the fall, they leave. Killer whales can be observed in Southeast Alaska between early May and early June, with more sporadic sightings from June to September. They can be found in Resurrection Bay in Seward and across Southeast Alaska, with the greatest concentration between Juneau and Ketchikan.
Orcas are common travelers to the area during the summer salmon season. They feed in the nutrient-rich waters of Alaska and travel in pods of four to seven whales, leaving you breathless and enthralled. These whales can be found in Alaska all year, but they are most active in the summer. As a result, the greatest months to see Orca Whales are from mid-June through early September.
If you ever visit Sitka, book a whale watching tour between mid-June to early September, and if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of some of the world’s most amazing and social mammals in their natural environment. For bookings or to make arrangements contact Sitka Whale Watch Tours or call (907)738-7311 and speak to our experts.