False killer whale

Pseudorca crassidens
False killer whale


Size: max 4.3-6.1m

Key features:
- Uniformly black in colour
- Unique ‘elbow’ on pectoral fins
- Slender head and rounded beak

Despite their name, false killer whales are not closely related to the killer whale but do look similar. They have a rounded dark head, tall curving dorsal fin and torpedo shaped body. They are dark grey to black all over and swim with their head and upper body above the surface. They also have a rounded head and large conical teeth.


The false killer whale with its rows of sharp teeth and black torpedo shaped body can look rather menacing and is known to attack groups of small cetaceans. Despite this it behaves more like a dolphin associating itself with other dolphin species, breaching high into the air, making rapid turns underwater and bow-riding vessels. They create large splashes as they move though the water due to their size.


The false killer whale is a warm water species preferring deep offshore waters in tropical and sub-tropical waters. Although it has been seen around the UK this is a rare sight and it is believed that the limit of their range in the Atlantic is the Straits of Gibraltar.


Little is known about the population of false killer whales, therefore it cannot be said if they are in any danger of extinction. They are renowned for stealing bait from long-liners, but can often get caught or entangled. Overfishing of prey species is also likely to impact upon the food availability. There have been many strandings of false killer whale particularly around the Eastern American coastline, the cause of this is unknown but it has been linked to naval sonar activity.

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