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False Killer Whale (Pseudorca)

Discovered in 1861

Order: Cetacea

Suborder: Odontoceti

Superfamily: Delphinoidea

Family: Delphinidae

Subfamily: Globicephalinae

Genus & Species: Pseudorca crassidens


The false killer whale is a small porpoise closely resembling the pilot whale, its close relative. They are rather small compared to other cetaceans, the males growing to 19 ft (5.7 m) in length, and the females growing to the slightly smaller length of 16.3 ft (4.9 m). They weigh 1.1-2.2 tons. False killer whales are completely black in colour, although some may have a grey patch shaped like an anchor that extends from the lower jaw to the naval and flippers. The black head may look pale grey in certain lights. The calves are light grey at birth. The body is very slender and streamlined and gradually slopes down from the blowhole to the tip of the snout, creating an almost indistinguishable beak. The lower jaw ends well before the end of the snout. The dorsal fin is smaller than that of the killer whale and is hooked at the rounded tip. The tail flukes are small in relation to the body and have a distinct notch in the middle. The pectoral fins are also small and taper to a point. A unique "elbow" is located at the middle of these fins, which are positioned very close to the head. The false killer whale has large, conical teeth, 16-22 on each jaw. They are 3/4 in. in diameter at the gum line.

False killer whales are fast, active swimmers. They are very intelligent and highly trainable, which is why they are displayed in many marine parks.


False killer whales are found in the deep tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate waters throughout the world, although they are not especially abundant anywhere. They prefer warmer, offshore waters, and are suspected to migrate from north to south with the seasonal warming and cooling of the waters. They have been found in the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and off Australia, Britain, Denmark, Florida, and Texas. They have been found as far north as Alaska.

False killer whales travel in groups called pods consisting of 10-50 individuals, although pods of several hundred have been recorded. They are well known for mass strandings, over 100 stranding in Florida once and 800 stranding at another time. Despite help from volunteers, they will refuse to turn back to the ocean, and will eventually die. The reason for these strandings is not clear.


The false killer whale feeds mainly upon squid, octopus, and cuttlefish, as well as fish such as cod. They have also been known to feed upon marine mammals.


False killer whales have few known enemies. In the United Kingdom they have been killed by whalers to be stripped of their blubber or to be turned into fertilizer. Entanglement in fishing nets also pose as a problem.


The breeding habits of the false killer whale are poorly understood. The breeding season is thought to be year round, with sexual maturity reached at a length of 12-14 ft (3.6-4.2 m). The calf (rarely calves) is born with a length of 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m), and a weight of 175 lbs (80 kg).


The false killer is a relatively new animal to scientists. It was unheard of before 1846, when a half-fossilized skull of one was uncovered in the Lincolnshire fens. Sir Richard Owen gave it its name as the skull resembled that of the killer whale. In 1861, the first live false killers were found in Kiel Bay by some whalers. They tried to capture the creatures, but succeeded only in trapping 40 and killing 1. A year later 3 were found stranded in Denmark. Ever since, they have turned up in many places and are quite common.


The false killer whale is known as a blackfish along with its closest relatives, the pygmy killer whale, killer whale, melonheaded whale, and the short-finned and long-finned pilot whales.


1. Funk & Wagnall's Wildlife Encyclopedia, "False Killer Whale" pg 713, vol 6, USA, 1974, BPC Pub Ltd
3. whalesspecies/falsekillerwhale.html