There are an estimated 50,000 orcas distributed throughout the world's oceans. They are the most widely-ranging of all cetaceans and are considered to be the second most widely-ranging mammal on the planet, after humans. Orcas are most commonly found in areas of high marine productivity, from the equator to polar waters. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has classified the Orcinus orca species as 'Data Deficient'. This means that there isn't enough research available to suggest a suitable conservation status for orcas as a whole. However, some local populations have been assigned national conservation statuses according to country-specific classification systems. Examples include the Southern resident community in the USA, which is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act 1973, and the New Zealand orca population, which is classified as nationally critical under the New Zealand Threat Classification System.
Orcas tend to live in complex matriarchal societies, comprised of related individuals who typically remain with their families their entire lives. Based on studies of the Northern and Southern resident orca populations of Washington State, USA and British Columbia, Canada, males are found to have an average lifespan of 29.2 years, with a maximum longevity of 50-60 years, and females have an average lifespan of 50.2 years, with a maximum longevity of 80-90 years (Olesiuk et al., 1990). Some females are believed to have survived in excess of 100 years, such as Southern resident matriarch J2, also known as 'Granny', who may have been as old as 105 years when she died at the end of 2016. Orca populations can differ morphologically, genetically, behaviourally, acoustically and culturally from one another. Some populations also differ geographically, whilst others overlap in their home range. A single population can be divided into several smaller groupings, typically referred to as communities, clans and/or pods.
Orca Aware has authored a report introducing many of the different orca populations found worldwide. With written and photographic contributions from numerous orca scientists and advocates observing orcas around the globe, it contains a description for each population, as well as the researchers and groups studying them. While we are in the process of updating the report, you can view the current version by clicking the button at the top of this page.