Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

False Killers

Two juvenile false killer whales off north-eastern New Zealand.

Two juvenile false killer whales off north-eastern New Zealand. Image: Jochen Zaeschmar

By Jochen Zaeschmar

The false killer whale appears to form long-term relationships with another dolphin species.

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It all started with a fish back in 2000. My first encounter with a large group of false killer whales and bottlenose dolphins climaxed when a false killer whale presented me with a large kingfish.

The other remarkable thing that struck me was the relationship between the whales and the dolphins. It appeared obvious that both species were very comfortable in each other’s presence, with the two intermingling in such a way that it was hard to detect any segregation. The encounter sparked a keen interest, not only in these whales but also in their relationship with the dolphins.

A literature search quickly revealed that not much was known about this species anywhere, with information regarding New Zealand’s waters even less forthcoming. What I did learn was that false killer whales are a little-known member of the dolphin family. They get their somewhat unfortunate name from a semi-fossilised skull that was discovered in England in 1840. Based on similarities with the skull of the true killer whale, it was thought to be an extinct relative. A live stranding in Germany in 1862 revealed that the species was still in existence, but the name stuck.

False killer whales are more closely related to Risso’s dolphins than killer whales, and they resemble pilot whales. They can be found in tropical and warm temperate seas worldwide and are believed to have one of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.