Obsession with False Killer Whales

What’s the deal with false killer whales? They’re a lesser known member of the dolphin family with a peculiar name.

When I took a class to become a marine mammal naturalist, the first species I chose to present on was the false killer whale. They were not one of the main species that was discussed in class and a rare species to see in local waters, but I chose them because I thought they were different. By pure chance, the class whale watching trip we had at the end of the course sighted false killer whales!

That was the only time I have seen them in the wild, and since then I have been a little obsessed.

The species was named “false killer whale” for the structural similarities in the skull to killer whales. Physically they don’t bare much similarity to killer whales, they look more like long, dark noodles with fins. Like all dolphin species, they are highly intelligent and highly social. False killer whales in particular are loyal to their pod mates; unwilling to leave each other’s sides they sometimes fall victim to mass strandings.

False killer whales have been documented interacting with other dolphin species as well. A great example comes from Blue Planet II - over 150 false killer whales and around 1000 bottlenose dolphins off the coast of New Zealand were recorded from the air, allowing researchers to study group bonding. Evidence suggests that some individuals had met before and that they remember each other. Dolphins in general are known to communicate with each other in their own "language" of clicks and whistles. There is the possibility that those false killer whales and bottlenose dolphin have learned some of each others' languages. How cool is that!!

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