Marine Mammal Stranding Database

Marine Mammal Species Description

False Killer Whale

Pseudorca crassidens

(Owen, 1846)

False Killer Whale Species Photo
Photo credit: Wayne Hoggard NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC


Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Alternate Common Names:

Status: proposed ESA endangered for insular Hawaii / protected under MMPA


   Length: 10.8-11.8 ft (3.3-6 m)
   Weight: maximum 3,000 lbs (1360 kg)

Adult false killer whales have a falcate shaped dorsal fin and falcate or sickle-shaped flippers. They are dark gray or black over most of their bodies with a lighter patch that covers the area between their flippers and toward their belly.


False killer whales are found in warm, deep offshore waters. They are sometimes found in the waters surrounding oceanic islands. In the Pacific some of the most frequent sightings occurred in water depths greater than 9,840 ft (3,000 m). They have been documented in schools ranging from 10 individuals to over 1,000 individuals. The average school size appears to be around 20-100 individuals. Research suggests that some members of schools stay together for at least 15 or more years.


False killer whales feed on fish, squid, and some smaller cetaceans.


Adults reach sexual maturity at 8-14 years old (about 11.1-12.5 ft (3.4-3.8 m) length). In one studied population, females had young about every seven years. Gestation lasts approximately 15 months.


The estimated life span of a false killer whale is approximately 60 years (57-62 years). Although this species, like the killer whale, has the common name of a whale, this species is a member of the dolphin family (Delphinidae).

Distribution / Range:

False killer whales occur most often in warm temperate and tropical waters around the world. They can occur along both coasts of the United States along with the Gulf of Mexico. However, they are most common from southern California south on the west coast and from Florida south on the east coast, except within the Gulf Stream.

Similar species:

Similar species include pygmy killer whales and melon-headed whales. Pygmy killer whales have a distinct boundary between the dark on the top of this species (the cape) and the lighter sides and are smaller than false killer whales. False killer whales are also larger than melon-headed whales.



Baird, R.W. 2009. False Killer Whale - Pseudorca crassidens. In: Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals 2nd Ed. Perrin W.F., B. Würsig, and J.G.M. Thewissen, eds. Academic Press, New York, pp. 405-406.

Baird, R.W. 2010. Pygmy killer whales (Feresa attenuata) or false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens)? Identification of a group of small cetaceans seen off Ecuador in 2003. Aquatic Mammals 36: 326-327.

Brownell, R.L., Jr. 1999. False killer whale, Pseudorca crassidens. In The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Wilson, D.E. and S. Ruff, eds., 283-284. Smithsonian Institution in association with the American Society of Mammologists, Washington DC.

Culik, B. 2010. Odontocetes. The toothed whales: "Pseudorca crassidens". UNEP/CMS Secretariat, Bonn, Germany. Accessed January 2012.

Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L. 2008. Pseudorca crassidens. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. Downloaded on 09 January 2012.