False killer whales are the fourth-largest member of the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae). They likely got their name as the false killer whale attacks and kills other whales and dolphins, just like their far relative the orca. But their appearance and behavior differ from killer whales and they do not belong to the same genus.
They live in temperate and tropical oceans throughout the world.
False killer whales in the Fiji Islands
As a typical deep sea dweller, false killer whales live in the open ocean far from land or near coasts only, when deep water is always near. False killer whales are fast movers, they can be very playful around boats, riding the bow wave or breach. They are very curious and may approach a drifting boat or a group of snorkellers even offering fish.
The false killer whale is a very social animal and lives in strong family bonds in very small groups of 10 to 50 animals. They communicate through clicking sounds and whistles, those can be clearly heard when in the water with them. False killer whales hunt in groups for squid and fish, preferring large species such as tuna or Mahimahi. Occasionally they form opportunistic hunting groups together with bottlenose dolphins.
On one occasion during a snorkeling encounter north of Ovalau’s Na Lobaloba reef, the whales were playing with a Mahimahi they had caught killed. They repeatedly swam up front to me and dropped it as an offer.
Note the bite of a cooky cutter shark on the False killer whales back. This is a typical injury on a deep water living whale or dolphin.
Cooky cutters are the smallest shark and spend daytime in deep water beyond the light zone. In the night they come to the surface an bite sleeping whales.
Conservational status of false killer whales
As a fast open ocean living species, they are difficult to study in the wild. Very little is actually known of their numbers and if they are endangered. They possibly face tread as bycatch in the tuna industry and longlining as they are known to take fish from longlines and may accidentally become hooked.
All images here are taken off Ovalau Island