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

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Wild orcas, although apex predators that hunt sharks and whales, are not generally considered dangerous to humans. Isabella Kwai, New York Times, 24 May 2023 Local guides, such as Paul Hudd of JP Orkney, have the low down on the best places to see minke whales, basking sharks, orcas, and dolphins, as well as arranging personal island tours with Malcolm Macrae, the 12th Laird of Breckness. Lucy Alexander, Robb Report, 28 Apr. 2023 The Salmon River runs through town, and Icy Strait is home to salmon, halibut, seals, humpback whales, orcas, and sea otters. Patricia Doherty, Travel + Leisure, 17 Apr. 2023 Watch for humpbacks and orcas, black and brown bears — and more. Scott Mcmurren, Anchorage Daily News, 16 Apr. 2023 Why are these orcas killing sharks and removing the… When sevengill shark carcasses with pectoral tears and missing livers began washing up on the South African coast, questions abounded. Magazine, 21 Mar. 2023 Weighing up to 1,100 pounds, these enormous seals have only one natural predator: the orca whale. Allison Futterman, Discover Magazine, 29 July 2022 Washington Washington has both a state endemic mammal, the Olympic marmot (mammals only found in one location), and a state marine mammal, the orca. Clare Mulroy, USA TODAY, 8 Apr. 2023 There’s no way to know if the Icelandic orcas would have eventually accepted Keiko. Bill Kearney, Sun Sentinel, 6 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'orca.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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.

First Known Use

1726, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of orca was in 1726

Dictionary Entries Near orca

Cite this Entry

“Orca.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orca. Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.

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