NAC scientists have uplifted killer whales to sentience, in particular those from the British Columbian and Alaskan coast. Genetic modification, especially for neotenous traits, has reduced the average size, but they are still impressive and often intimidating at five to six metres long and two tonnes in weight. The sentient killer whales prefer to be called orca.
Orca society is organised around strong family and clan links based on matrilineal descent, and individuals take pride in their ancestry. Hybrids with the wild species are rare. The population is steadily growing, but nowhere near that of sentient dolphins.
Orca have a reputation for seriousness and hard work, rather like Scots. Those who know them well say that the orca are much more relaxed among themselves and that the dourness is an act: the orca believe humans won't treat cetaceans as true equals until somebody can be trusted to behave like responsible adults!
Relations between dolphins and orca are generally polite but not warm. All it takes is one ill-considered remark about food chains in response to dolphin teasing and the equivalent of a fist fight breaks out. As this means lots of dolphin and orca swimming at high speed and ramming each other, wise humans leave the water until the participants have battered and bruised each other into exhaustion.
While not as open about it as the dolphins, neither Japanese nor Russians are welcome among orca. As the population has grown, the accident rate for the northern Japanese fishing fleets has become nearly as bad as in the southern hemisphere, a statistic that NAC officials consider to be an "interesting coincidence."
Orca spend little time on the ground, as, even with exoskeleton walkers, their size stops them from freely moving in most human environments. Floating habitats act as the equivalent of trading posts and way stations for the clans, and attract dolphin and human patrons also. (Vendors of ham sandwiches, beefburgers, and fried chicken do particularly well.) Cetaceans don't pay much attention to lines on maps, so these habitats, provided that the local dolphins agree, often cross into OU areas.
Non-military NAC orca are very rare off earth, and those met will be working on fixed term contracts. Military service is the way most orca choose to visit space, although in peaceful times a few cruise ships equipped for orca passengers operate from Canada. Clans with a real yearning to settle on another world usually apply to emigrate to the Oceanic Union and from there to Beta Comences IV.
Orca are more comfortable with military hierarchies than the average dolphin, so are proportionately over-represented. They prefer female commanders.
On earth military orca serve in the Royal Marines and Special Boat Service. (But being a "SEAL" is beneath their dignity, so they don't volunteer for that branch.) Their size allows light weaponry, armour, and sensors to be implanted instead of being carried on external harness, so can swim unencumbered. Even the best trained enemy troops react differently, often with a moment of instinctive panic, to a wild predator shape rather than one with obvious technological enhancements.
Orca, like dolphins, make good fighter pilots in space, and the NAC Phantom/C heavy fighter variant is designed specifically for cetacean crew. Being born and raised in three dimensions reduces the training time. The natural cetacean sonar makes them expert at interpreting active and passive radar signals, eliminating the need for a second specialist WIO/GIB crew member. (Which is just as well, since there is only room for one orca anyway.) They have no qualms about flying blind either, so in combat the canopy can be shuttered with armour and stealth protection, removing a weak point.
A couple of the small two flight Invincible class escort carriers operate only orca-crewed fighters. Unofficially these are known as the flying aquariums.
Thanks to Zoe Brain for her description of the intelligent dolphins in the Oceanic Union which inspired this.
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