False killer whales are toothed whales and as their name suggests, they are similar to, but not directly related to killer whales (orcas). Like Orcas, false killer whales are a large species of dolphin. Long and slender with elongated heads and dark grey or black bodies, they are often referred to as “blackfish”. False killer whales have a much smaller and curved dorsal fin compared to orcas.
Male false killer whales are larger than females and can grow as long as 6m and weigh up to 2.2 tonnes. This compares to 4.5m and 1.2 tonnes for females. They can live for up to 60 years.
False killer whales live on a diet of squid, dolphinfish (also known as “mahi-mahi”), tuna, sharks, and marine mammals including sea birds, seals and walruses. They have also be known to attack other dolphins, as well as humpback and sperm whales.
Fast and energetic, false killer whales are active and playful and are often seen approaching boats. They have even been known to donate fish they have caught to the people on the boat! They form large pods of up to 60 individuals, sometimes even swimming with other species, such as bottlenose dolphins, forming combined pods numbering in the hundreds.
As social as they are in the water, they unfortunately also tend to stick together when beaching. In Western Australia in 1986, a pod of 114 false killer whales became stranded at Flinders Bay, resulting in a three-day rescue. There is also a reported case of as many as 800 false killer whales involved in a mass stranding.
False killer whales are typically found in tropical waters and it is not known whether they take part in annual migrations. They normally stick to the open ocean, however have been known to venture to coastal waters, including up and down the NSW coast. Check out our latest sightings map to see if any have been spotted this season.
Have a look at our top spots for whale watching on the NSW coast and you might be lucky enough to see one of these rarely sighted creatures this whale watching season.