Aquafacts / False Killer Whales

False Killer Whales 

We compiled the most popular questions about false killer whales and had our biologists tackle them.

Quick facts


First live specimen documented

15.5 months

Length of pregnancy

1,360 kg 

Average adult weight

62.5 years

Oldest recorded age for a female

18 kilometres per hour

Fastest recorded speed

What is a false killer whale?

A false killer whale is a member of the dolphin family. While false killer whales are not closely related to killer whales, they do have superficial similarities (like cone-shaped teeth) to other members of the dolphin family (like bottlenose dolphins and Pacific white-sided dolphins).

Why are they called false killer whales?

This name comes from the similarly shaped skulls that false killer whales have to that of killer whales (Orcinus orca). The “crassidens” in their scientific name Pseudorca crassidens means “thick tooth.” The name originated from scientists who were studying false killer whale sub-fossils (bone that has not been fully fossilized) in 1846. The first live specimens were documented in 1862.

Where can they be found?

They are more commonly seen off the coasts of places like Hawai’i, Mexico, Costa Rica and Japan. Although they seem to prefer warmer places, they do wander into cooler waters; a few individuals have been seen as far north as Alaska and Norway. Since there are no known populations that spend all of their time in these places they are considered “wanderers.”

The B.C. Cetecean Sightings Network, based at the Vancouver Aquarium, collected 177 sightings over a 20-year period, likely of the same individual. In July 2014, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue team, with help from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), rescued a month-old false killer whale calf that had stranded on a beach in Tofino, Vancouver Island.

There is currently no estimate of their global population. The best studied group of false killer whales is a cluster of resident animals in Hawai’i that researchers have studied for years.

What do false killer whales eat?

They are known to eat a wide variety of large fishes, like dolphinfish (Mahi mahi), and squid. False killer whales are known for pulling bait and catch from fishinglonglines, which can be dangerous for the animal. Unfortunately, like other marine animals, false killer whales have also been found to have eaten plastic.

Do false killer whales have any distinguishing markings?

They tend to have overall solid dark grey colouration on their long, slender bodies, but some individuals have lighter grey or even white markings on their undersides and chests between their side (pectoral) flippers. Their pectoral flippers can have an ”S” shaped curve to them, and they have a small curved dorsal fin positioned centrally on their back.

Have false killer whales ever been stranded on the shoreline?

Most of what we know about false killer whales comes from animals that have stranded. The largest group of false killer whales to have stranded was 835 individuals near Mar del Plata, Argentina on October 10, 1946.

Do males and females look different from each other?

There does appear to be some sexual dimorphism in false killer whales; males tend to have larger foreheads (melons) and be longer than females.

Do false killer whales migrate?

Not much is known about the migration of false killer whales, but some groups seem to show preference for a particular place, like the group around Hawai’i that has been observed for the past 20 years.


  2. [Marine Mammals of British Columbia by John Ford]
  3. “Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World: Volume 2. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.”

Permission is granted by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre for classroom teachers to make copies for non-commercial use. This permission does not extend to copying for promotional purposes, creating new collective works, or resale.