Do Orcas Have Eyes? Dispelling Myths and Revealing Facts

Orcas (aka killer whales) are one complex marine mammal on earth and are members of the marine dolphin family known as ‘Delphinidae.’ These large black-and-white predators can reach up to 32 feet long and weigh over six tons. These highly intelligent marine mammals are apex predators. They are found all over the world’s oceans, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, making them one of this planet’s most widely distributed marine mammals.

Do Orcas Have Eyes?

This may seem like a silly question at first glance, but it is actually an interesting topic to explore.

Yes, orcas do have eyes. However, their eyes are quite different from those of humans. They are located on either side of their head, below and in front of their white eye patch.

Although orcas’ eyes are small (for their size) and are difficult to see, they are positioned at an angle that allows them to have a 360-degree view of their surroundings. This is essential for their survival as they must be constantly aware of potential predators or prey.

Do Orcas Have Good Eye Sight?

An orca’s (killer whale’s) eyes are about the same size as the eyes of a cow, but their vision is much better in detecting prey and navigating through the ocean. Their unique adaptation allows them to see well in and out of water.

The cornea of a killer whale’s eye is specially designed to refract light in a way that enables them to see clearly above and below the water’s surface. This is why they can easily pull off techniques like spy-hopping to locate prey on top of ice caps.

Why Do Orcas Have Fake Eyes?

Many people assume that white eye patches on an orca are its actual eyes. But it is not the case. They are just fake eyes. But again, what are their purpose? Well, it’s still unclear, but we present some popular theories around them.

The most popular theory of all is that fake eyes are there to protect actual eyes from any potential attacks by being false targets. Most often, prey animals attack the eyes of their predators to disorientate them, so these come in handy for killer whales with such large false eyes.

These eye patches defend orcas from predators or even confuse them. Orcas may also fool the predators that they are awake when they aren’t. Although orcas may not have many living predators, some were extinct ancestors.

Another theory is that fake eyes are the source of attracting potential mates, and female orcas would choose a male with the biggest white patch, a common phenomenon in some creatures, like birds. Or maybe the symmetry of these eyepatches helps to evaluate health and reproductive fitness.

Some scientists also argue that these white eye patches might help other orcas (family members or pod members) identify one another in dark or murky waters.

Also Read: Do Whales Eat Seals?

Can Orcas See Color?

Yes. They do but not similar to us.

While humans have three types of cones in their eyes that allow us to see millions of colors, orcas only have two types of cones, and their color perception is limited compared to ours. Research has shown that orcas can distinguish between different colors but are very sensitive to blue and green wavelengths of light.

According to DNA studies that are done on various toothed whale species, it is shown that they do not generate the pigment cells called short-wave sensitive (S-) cones, which are sensitive to blue light in their eyes. Theoretically, all contemporary cetaceans, including orcs, lack these visual pigments and thus can’t distinguish between colors in the blue spectrum.

This is not a proven theory, though. Some studies suggest that they may be able to distinguish between different colors, while others indicate that they may only perceive shades of gray. Scientists still have different opinions on this matter, and further research is needed to fully understand this aspect of orcas’ vision.

An orca’s color vision may not be as complex as ours, but it still plays a vital role in their survival and behavior in the wild.

Also Read: Do Crabs Have Teeth?

Can Orcas See In The Dark?

Many questions about orcas’ eyes and their visual capabilities are still a mystery to many.

Interestingly, scientists believe that a killer whale’s ability to see underwater might actually be better than their vision above water. This is because the ocean absorbs certain wavelengths of light differently than air, perfectly accommodating its eyes. Some marine animals have evolved specialized visual systems to accommodate their needs deep under the water.

Orcas’ eyes have a substantially spherical lens that makes up for the lack of refraction at the corneal contact. It is said that orcas can see about 35 feet, even in near-complete darkness, but they lose detail after this distance. This peculiar trait helps these killer whales successfully hunt and locate prey even in incredibly low-light conditions.

 

Thanks for taking the time to learn new facts about orcas and their eyes today.

We will catch you in the next one!

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