The species is so called due to having similarities with the orca of killer whale. Thus, the False killer whale has similar shape, number of teeth as well as skull shape and size as the killer whale. The False killer whale is actually not a whale but a dolphin. The animals have a whitish marking on their chest between the flippers. In addition, some individuals exhibit pale grey patches on their heads. In general, however, the coloration of their body is nearly entirely grey to black.
False killer whale occurs in tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Usually the animal inhabits the open ocean, but it can occasionally be observed around oceanic islands like Hawaii. In addition, the False killer whale has been seen in semi-enclosed areas such as the Mediterranean.
These animals normally gather into pods, which can be very small (including just a few whales) and rather large (containing hundreds of individuals). These large pods of False killer whales consist of smaller groups of 18 individuals on average. The False killer whales are highly social animals, just like Pilot whales. These playful animals are identified due to being one of a few large mammals that tend to leap out of the water over the wake of a ship. They favor riding bow waves of various vessels, preferring faster-moving ships. False killer whales use a wide variety of clicks and whistles as a form of communication. They also use echolocation, interacting through sounds, which help them detect prey and sense the ocean waters. They generally hunt by day and night.
The diet of this carnivorous (piscivorous and molluscivorous) animal considerably depends on the area of habitat, usually consisting of squid as well as various species of pelagic fish, tuna, wahoo and mahi mahi. The False killer whale is also known to consume smaller dolphins, and can prey on humpback and sperm whales on occasion.
The species is known to have polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system, where both males and females mate with multiple mates. The False killer whales mate throughout the year with peak periods, occurring from January to December and in March. Gestation periods range from 11 to 16 months. Females give birth to a single calf, after which they do not breed for about 6.9 years on average. Soon after birth, the baby is able to swim. The young is weaned gradually during the period of 18 - 24 months. Even after weaning, calves often remain in the same group with their mother. Males of this species are sexually mature by 8 - 10 years old, whereas females reach maturity within 8 - 11 years old.
Currently, the False killer whale suffers from sharp global decline in the number and size of prey species it consumes. On the other hand, the species is threatened by persistent organic pollutants, which, accumulating in high levels, may expose the animal to the risk of disease susceptibility. In addition, fisheries are another serious threats to these animals: along with being caught on hooks and drownes, False killer whales occasionally take bait or catches from longlines, causing retaliatory culling. Other notable concerns to the False killer whale population include loud sounds of navy sonar and seismic exploration as well as other human-made sound, which can be very harmful to these animals.
According to the IUCN Red List, the global population size of the False killer whale is unknown. However, there are estimates of its population is specific areas: in the coastal waters of China and Japan - 16,000 whales; in the northern Gulf of Mexico - 1,038 whales; in the U.S. (Hawaii) - 268 whales; in the eastern tropical Pacific - 39,800 whales. Currently, False killer whales are classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List.