or·​ca | \ ˈȯr-kə How to pronounce orca (audio) \
plural orcas or orca

Definition of orca

: a relatively small toothed whale (Orcinus orca of the family Delphinidae) that is black above with white underparts and white oval-shaped patches behind the eyes : killer whale Orcas are … the most agile and streamlined of the cetaceans. Found throughout the world, they are intelligent, social, and matriarchal.— Marguerite Holloway At the end of the food chain sustained by the krill is the orca … a spectacular animal patterned in black and white, that hunts in groups of up to thirty or forty, feeding on penguins, porpoises and seals.— John Vandenbeld There they were, wild orcas. Adrenaline rushed through my body, but I clung to the dock. I knew nothing of these waters or this northern wilderness.— Alexandra Morton … nowhere in the world are orca easier to see than on Puget Sound, where new whale-watching cruises bring you close to one of the few resident populations.Sunset

Examples of orca in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

In recent weeks, an orca in the Pacific Northwest carried her dead calf around with her for 17 days. Alison Gopnik, WSJ, "Like Us, Whales May Be Smart Because They’re Social," 16 Aug. 2018 The death of a young orca last month — despite a weekslong international effort to save her — leaves only 74 in a group that has failed to reproduce successfully in the past three years. Phuong Le, The Seattle Times, "Scientists to sequence genes of struggling southern-resident orca whales," 5 Oct. 2018 Elderly orca females live well past their fertility and pass on valuable information and traditions to their children and grandchildren. Alison Gopnik, WSJ, "Like Us, Whales May Be Smart Because They’re Social," 16 Aug. 2018 Because of a unique blend of characteristics, however, orcas are particularly at risk. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "A decades-old pollutant is still threatening orca populations," 28 Sep. 2018 For instance, there isn't data on survival rates for orca calves based on their mothers' contamination. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "A decades-old pollutant is still threatening orca populations," 28 Sep. 2018 The matriarch of the southern residents J2, estimated to be perhaps as old as 100 years, making her the oldest known orca in the world, was declared dead by the end of 2017 when researchers had not seen her since October, 2016. Lynda V. Mapes, The Seattle Times, "‘Two guys are doing all of the work’: Southern-resident orcas’ inbreeding may devastate the population," 19 Apr. 2018 An article on Tuesday about declining orca populations misstated Brad Hanson’s position at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. New York Times, "Corrections: July 11, 2018," 10 July 2018 In the 1970s and 80s, theme parks like Sea World captured nearly 4 dozen orcas from the region, possibly shrinking the pods’ gene pool. New York Times, "Orcas of the Pacific Northwest Are Starving and Disappearing," 9 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'orca.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of orca

1726, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for orca

borrowed from New Latin, a genus name, earlier a specific epithet (Delphinus orca, Linnaeus), going back to Latin, "a marine mammal, probably Risso's dolphin," borrowed (perhaps via Etruscan) from Greek oryg-, óryx "kind of marine mammal" — more at oryx

Note: The Roman grammarian Sextus Pompeius Festus assumed that the form of the Latin word reflected a different word orca, "kind of narrow-necked earthenware vessel," from the animal's supposed resemblance to the vase.

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24 Mar 2019

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The first known use of orca was in 1726

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or·​ca | \ ˈȯr-kə How to pronounce orca (audio) \

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