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Kauai False Killer Whales

False killer whales aren’t whales at all—they’re dolphins! They’re named so because their skull shape is super similar to that of the more widely known Orca whale species. If you think you see an Orca on one of our Kauai boat tours, you might be looking at a false killer whale. Both are great sightings, either way!

False killer whales put on a show—they’re fast, active swimmers and individuals will often breach clear out of the water and land on their side with a dramatic splash. Other times, they’ll do a “spy hop”, emerging from the water with just their head held high upwards and their mouth open, revealing some of their 44 teeth.

False killer whales are dark grey to black (typically slightly lighter on the underside) and sport a slender body with a sickle-shaped dorsal fin that may be more than a foot high.  These dolphins can reach lengths of 18’ long and can weigh up to 3,200 lbs.

False killer whales are social animals that create long-term bonds, living in pods of 10-20 individuals, with a lifespan of about 60 years. And get this– they share their prey with each other and even with humans. YES, false killer whales around the world (including Hawaii) have been known to offer fish such as tuna and mahi-mahi to snorkelers and divers! It’s comforting that there have never been any reports of these generous creatures killing humans, but still—would an encounter like that be a little too exciting?!

Sadly, long-line fishing in Hawaii takes its toll on the local population—it’s estimated (by Cascadia Research Collective) that the population has decreased by approximately 75% over the last thirty years. Getting entangled in lines and swallowing hooks are serious threats to the local false killer whales and when we’re lucky enough to see them, they almost always bear scars from interactions with fishing gear.

At Holo Holo, we’re not big fans of keeping wild animals in captivity. That said, here’s a fun fact. In 1985, a male false killer whale kept at Sea Life Park on Oahu successfully mated with a female bottlenose dolphin, creating an extremely rare fertile hybrid called a “wolphin.” Wolphins have reportedly been born in the wild as well.