Orcas, also called killer whales, are the largest species of the dolphin family. These immense mammals can live from 50 to 80 years in the wild, but in captivity are fortunate if they reach the age of 30. With some patience and perseverance, there are a few ways you can see an orca in his wild habitat, swimming the oceans blue. You can also see orcas in captivity in marine parks around the world.
Viewing Wild Orcas
According to Sea World Parks and Entertainment, orcas can be found in every ocean and are second to humans when it comes to being the most widely distributed mammal on our planet. Wild orca pods are most prominent in colder waters, primarily within the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the northern region of the Atlantic Ocean. While orcas don’t frequently venture into warmer waters, on occasion you can spot the species off the coasts of California, Hawaii and Florida. There have also been orca sightings in tropical water locations including Australia, New Zealand, the Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas and the Galapagos Islands.
One of the easiest ways to view orcas in the wild is by boat. Whale-watching is an abundant activity in the Pacific Northwest, and you can find several tour companies along the coast of Washington, within the San Juan Islands and near the coastal areas of British Columbia, Canada. This region features several pods of killer whales that are studied and identified each year by the Center for Whale Research. The majority of the whale-watching tours in the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska are seasonal and run from May to October. In warmer locations, such as Southern California and the Hawaiian Islands, orcas have been spotted on whale-watching tours during the months of November to April.
Sea Kayaking Tours
Embark on a sea kayaking tour to view orcas in a more up-close-and-personal manner. Sea kayaking adventures can be booked as a day tour in locations like Hawaii or Washington, or as a multiday vacation tour in places like Alaska and British Columbia. Be aware, though, that some pods of orca whales are now a protected species, and federal regulations require kayakers and boaters to remain at least 100 yards away from the mammals at all times. Do not ever expect these predatory giants to move out of your way. It is a better safety precaution for you to stop when you come within the respected distance and paddle yourself out of the way.
Orcas can sometimes be viewed from the shoreline in a number of locations. The website Orca Network posts updates as to where orca sightings have recently taken place. For residents of the Pacific Northwest, this frequently happens, and some have even found that orcas are frolicking playfully in Puget Sound channel waters very close to home. If you plan to watch an orca pod from the shoreline, bring along a good pair of binoculars or a telescope in the event these graceful giants are not close to shore.
Marine Parks including Sea World and Marineland have had resident, performing killer whales for many years. While many activists disagree with keeping orcas in captivity, many theme-park enthusiasts enjoy being entertained by the whales’ obvious intelligence and charismatic personalities. Sea World has three marine parks in the United States in California, Texas and Florida, while Marineland has a park in Ontario, Canada, and one in France. Miami, Florida, also has the Miami Seaquarium, which is home to Lolita the killer whale, a former resident of the Puget Sound that was captured in the early 1970s.