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Home / News / General / Hawaii’s cetaceans

Hawaii’s cetaceans

By: Denver Leaman

False Killer Whale

False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens)
Suborder: Odonticeti Family: Delphinidae
Occurs in Hawaiian waters. Actually a dolphin.

Other known names:

: False pilot whale, Pseudorca

Identity keys to use in the field:

Streamlined body, small head, rounded beak, elbow on flippers, dark coloration, tall dorsal fin, fast & active swimmer, prefers deep water.

General description and habits:

False killer whales, like Orcas, are actually dolphins, not whales. They are generally smaller than pilot whales and Orcas but larger than other 'dolphins'. They have a dark body color with a long, slender head that tapers to a rounded beak. The fins on their backs are large with either a pointed or rounded tip. They quite often have scars on parts of their bodies. Their flukes are small in relation to the rest of their bodies. Their flippers are different to many other whales in that they have a unique 'elbow', like that of the long-finned pilot whale. When they are born false killer whales are 1.6 to 1.9 meters (5ft 3in - 6ft 3in) long. When they are fully grown they can measure between 4.3 and 6 meters (14ft - 19ft 9in). At birth, false killer whales weigh 80kg (175 lb) and when they are mature they weigh between 1.1 and 2.2 tonnes. False killer whales are very social animals, found in groups of between 10 and 50. They are even sometimes found in pods of several hundred at social gatherings! They are fast, active swimmers and often breach and lob tail. When they are feeding they make frequent stops and sharp turns. False killer whales often lift their heads and much of their bodies out of the water when they surface, sometimes with their mouths open displaying rows of teeth. They are very curious and will often approach boats to investigate, bow-ride or wake-ride. They are also known to strand. In one case 800 stranded at the same time.


Fish, squid and other marine mammals.


False killer whales are widely distributed but are not found in great numbers anywhere. They seem to prefer deep, offshore waters but sometimes they are seen in deep, coastal waters. They also seem to prefer warm waters and may move from north to south with the different seasons.

Population estimates:



Hunting, entanglement in fishing nets, captivity industry, environmental changes.

Interesting facts:

Johannes Reinhardt, a Danish zoologist, decided that these animals looked like Orcinus orca (killer whales) and so he named them Pseudorca crassidens. In Greek pseudes means "false", hence their name false killer whale. The crassidens part of the name means "thick tooth".

Hawaii’s cetaceans
  • Humpback whales
  • Striped Dolphin
  • Spinner Dolphin
  • Baird’s Beaked Whale
  • Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
  • Blainville's Beaked Whale
  • Bryde's Whale
  • Cuvier's Beaked Whale
  • Dwarf Sperm Whale
  • False Killer Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Killer Whale
  • Melon-headed Whale
  • Minke Whale
  • Northern Right Whale
  • Pygmy Killer Whale
  • Pygmy Sperm Whale
  • Risso's Dolphin
  • Rough-toothed Dolphin
  • Short-finned Pilot Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Spotted Dolphin



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