2. They’re Extremely Protective of Their Young
Because orcas only give birth once every 3-10 years, after a 17-month gestation, they’re incredibly protective of their young. Orca mothers will nurse juveniles for up to two years, and adolescent female orcas will often help care for the younger killer whales in the pod. Because pods are matrilineal, and hunting methods are passed from mother to child, it’s vital that adolescent orcas are given the opportunity to grow up. Mothers have even been seen holding single salmon in their mouths, allowing their calves to chew at the fish, and thus learn the preferred prey of their particular regional group.
Killer whales also ensure that calves have plenty of food. In the case of hunting larger prey, such as blue whales, orcas will dive down to the corpse as it sinks to tear off chunks to bring to the surface. Young orcas can’t dive as deep or for as long as mature killer whales. Plus, they need proportionally more food than mature whales (10% of their body weight as opposed to 2-3% for an adult killer whale). Thus, the pod makes sure the young get their fill. Sure, some juvenile killer whales will separate from their mother’s pod and move to another group. However, many choose to stay within the pod for their entire lives.