False Killer Whales

The marine habitats in our area range from shallow murky water in the Gulf of Montijo, via shallow, warm and clear coastal waters around Coiba and Cebaco to very deep waters just south of Cerro Hoya. This variety of habitats is inhabited by a great variety of marine mammals.

One of the rarer species that occurs in our area is the false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens). They usually stay in deep waters. We sometimes see them at the eastern side of Coiba, in fairly deep water. Seeing false killer whales is exiting. They are large (up to 6 m), very active and usually curious. When false killer whales note the presence of a boat, they often come to investigate. Meaning you have half a dozen or more false killer whales swimming along with the boat. They like to ride the bow wave or the wake of the boat. At some stage one of the whales that swam along th20160415-lt6a0636e boat looked straight at me.


False killer whales are quite large but slender, almost like an outsized dolphin. The adults grow 4 to 6 m long and weigh 1100 to 2200 kg. And they are fast! The false killer whales we saw kept up with the boat without any effort and we travelled at about 20 km/h. When they surface, usually the whole head is lifted out of the water and they often have their mouth open, showing a set of impressive teeth.

Not much is known about false killer whales. They occur mostly in warmer waters and seem to hunt mostly squid and large fish such as tuna, dorado and sailfish. But they have attacked humpback whale calves and dolphins as well. False killer whales are probably long-lived (around 60 years) and start reproducing quite late, females at around 10 years of age and males only at about 18 years. False killer whales have probably never been common, but studies in Hawaií shows that the population there is in steep decline


False killer whales are supposed to be friendly and there are reports of false killer whales offering fish they caught to boats or divers. So far we have not been able to get into the water with them, but maybe one day that will happen.


Photos courtesy of Jon Hall

About keesgroenendijk

We are the owners of hotel Heliconia and Tanager tourism, two companies dedicated to Eco-tourism. We are located in Panama, on the west coast of the Azuero peninsula, close to Coiba Island and Cerro Hoya National Park. We provide accomodation and organise tours to Cerro Hoya, Coiba and other destinations.
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