Why are orcas black and white?

why are orcas black and white

It is common knowledge that Orcas are the apex predators in the ocean; they are at the top of the marine food chain, and they rule the marine world.

Just like the way a “pride of lions” rules the savannah, “orca pods” are the boss of the ocean. Orcas also have almost all other types of marine creatures on their menu. Sharks, whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, etc. But have you ever wondered why orcas are usually black and white? 

Why orcas are black and white. 

Orcas have a black back and a white belly. The reason for the distinct black and white coloration of an orca is for disruptive camouflage. This camouflage technique is not only used by orcas, it is also employed by other marine predators like sharks, fish, and seabirds like penguins and puffins. It is called “countershading”. 

How black and white pigmentation helps orcas to thrive.

Marine animals swimming above the orcas will not be able to see them because of their dark backs that blend with the sea floor or the darker marine depths. Similarly, marine animals swimming below them will often mistake the white belly for sunlight or ice. Orcas often hunt in icy, snowy, and dark waters, so their coloring gives them the perfect camouflage to thrive.

Orcas also have disruptive coloring of black and white, this allows them to break up their shape (making themselves look smaller). This makes it harder for the prey to tell if the orca is a friend or a foe.

Are orcas only black and white?

White and black coloration is very common in orcas, However, there are some exceptions. For example, the Far East Russia Orca Project stated in April 2010 that they had successfully observed “Iceberg,” the all-white, mature male killer whale, off the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Iceberg is estimated to be at least 16 years old and was sighted traveling with a group of 12 other whales. He appears to be healthy and socially adjusted, but he also has unique coloration. Researchers aren’t sure what caused Iceberg’s unusual appearance, but if he can be found again this summer, they might be able to figure it out. A close examination of his eyes would indicate whether or not he is a true albino (albinism produces pink eyes).

However, it should be noted that this is not the first time a white killer whale have been spotted. A grey-white killer whale calf was spotted with the mother near the Victoria, BC waterfront in December 2009.

Killer whales are not the only known cetacean species to suffer from leucism or Albinism, other species have been observed in the wild with striking white coloration, including humpback whales, harbor porpoises, and Franciscana (or La Plata) dolphins.

How rare is a white orca?

White orcas

Scientists can’t really tell the exact number of white orcas across the world. However, it has been observed that some populations of orca pods are known to have more white members than others.

According to a study published in the journal Aquatic Mammals in 2016, Hoyt and other researchers estimated that 1 in 1,000 orcas in the western North Pacific are white. It seems to have the highest population of white orcas in the world.


Orcas have black backs and white bellies. Their distinct white and black coloration helps them camouflage. This coloration makes it easier for them to hunt and maintain their lives. However, not all orcas have black backs. Some orcas have white or gray backs. This variation in color is said to be a result of either albinism or leucism.

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