False killer whale

Pseudorca crassidens


Size: max 6m

Key feature: Dark head and tall dorsal fin.

Despite their name, false killer whales are not closely related to the killer whale but do look similar. They have a rounded dark head, tall curving dorsal fin and torpedo shaped body. They are dark grey to black all over. They swim with their head and upper body above the surface. They have rounded face and large conical teeth. 


False killer whales are called this becasue they attack other cetacean species just like killer whales do, but they do not look like killer whales. Despite this aggressive behaviour they like to associate themselves with other cetaceans, especially bottlenose dolphins. False killer whales travel in groups, from 2 – 200 individuals. They are playful and acrobatic, often approaching boats and surfing in the bow waves.


False killer whales have a widespread distribution around the globe, mainly in warm water. They are mainly seen in the open ocean, but occasional frequent coastal areas. ORCA surveys have only had one confirmed sighting in the last 10 years which was within the south of the Bay of Biscay. It is believed the northern limit of its regular range in the Atlantic appears to be the Strait of Gibraltar.


Little is known about the population of false killer whales, therefore it cannot be said if they are in any danger of extinction. They are sometimes caught as bycatch in fisheries. They are renowned for stealing bait from longliners, but can often get caught or entangled. Overfishing of prey species is also likely to impact upon the food availability for false killer whales. There have been many strandings of false killer whale particularly around the east american coast, the cause of this is unknown but it has been linked to naval sonar activity. False killer whales are also kept in aquaria around the globe for entertainment.

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