Distribution and Habitat
1. Next to humans, killer whales are the most widely distributed mammal. Killer whales inhabit all oceans of the world but are most numerous in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and areas of cold water upwelling. They can be sporadically sighted along the shores of Washington, Oregon, California, and Baja California and along the eastern coast of the United States.
2. In addition to cold water areas, killer whales also have been seen in warm water areas such as Hawaii, Australia, the Galapagos Islands, the Bahamas, and the Gulf of Mexico. Such sightings are infrequent, but they do demonstrate the killer whales' ability to venture into tropical waters. Even more surprising, killer whales have been seen in fresh water rivers around the world such as the Rhine, the Thames, and the Elbe. One even traveled some 177 km (110 mi.) up the Columbia River to eat fish.
3. Although killer whales can be found in both the open ocean and coastal waters, they primarily inhabit the continental shelf in waters less than 200 m (656 ft.) deep. In cold water areas, their distribution is limited by seasonal pack ice.
In some areas, the seasonal movements of killer whales are influenced by the migration of fish and other prey. In eastern Canada, killer whale movements are often a response to seal and rorqual whale migrations, while northeastern Atlantic killer whales seem to follow herring. In the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, killer whales make considerable seasonal movements in response to the advance and retreat of the pack ice.
1. Because of their wide distribution, the worldwide population of killer whales is unknown. Few regional groups of killer whales have been studied thoroughly, making worldwide population estimates difficult. Some specific killer whale populations have been examined, however:
2. Killer whales are not regarded as an endangered species.
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