Orca vs Dolphin

Orcas and dolphins are both highly intelligent marine animals that travel in social groups. Moreover, they exhibit playful and friendly behavior, and use hunting strategies such as echolocation.

In this post, we explore the attributes and differences between these two highly intelligent marine mammals.

orca vs dolphin

Orca vs Dolphin: Differences

Here are the top five main differences between the orca and the dolphin:  

  • Size: Orcas are much bigger, reaching 6-8m in length and weighing up to 6 tons compared to dolphins that measure 2-4 meters and 100-200 pounds
  • Appearance: Orcas are black and white, with a big dorsal fin, whereas dolphins are grey and sleek with elongated beak mouth.
  • Diet: Orcas subsist on fish and bigger animals, such as seals and even dolphins. Dolphins feed on schools of fish, squid, and jellyfish.
  • Habitat: Orcas may be found almost anywhere, but they are most common near the coast, just like dolphins.
  • Lifespan: Orcas live an average of 90-100 years, whereas dolphins can survive up to 50-60 years.


Let’s do a deep dive and learn about Orca’s in more detail.

What is an Orca? 

The Orca or Killer Whale is a type of toothed whale that belongs to the oceanic dolphin family. They are regarded as one of the world’s most powerful predators, with only natural threats from other predators.

The Orca’s brain is the second-heaviest among marine creatures, behind only the sperm whale. They’re regarded as highly educated, like dolphins, and even teachable.

They’ve been known to imitate others, pass on skills to their youngsters, and be highly inquisitive and playful. They can also tackle problems creatively.

Despite their reputation as “killers,” they are not a danger to humans. There has never been a documented fatality from an attack by one of these massive animals. Nonetheless, some people still have a phobia of these enormous creatures. 

Orcas are divided into three to five subspecies, or species. The following are the most important three.

Three Types of Orca

There are three different types of orca that exist. You can find them listed below.


The most frequent species of orca. They can be found in the Pacific northeast and eat fish and squid, among other things. The females have a rounded dorsal fin with a sharp corner, whereas the males have a triangular dorsal fin. These orcas traverse the seas off British Columbia’s coast and in Washington state.’


Orca are a species of killer whale that live in the Pacific Northwest and western North America. Orca feed on seals, sea lions, porpoises, penguins, and even other whales. They typically travel in groups between two and six individuals, although they may congregate in larger clusters near shorelines during hunting season.


The Pacific northwest’s offshore population of orcas was discovered in the late 1980s. They are distinguished by their larger scarred dorsal fins and have been encouraged along Vancouver Island as a result.

orca in canada


Orcas are dark black and white creatures with a prominent stumpy dorsal fin that extends straight up into the air. (Curiously, captive orcas’ dorsal fins tend to droop.) Orcas have a grey saddle behind the main dorsal fin and are mostly black on top and white on bottom, which is known as countershading.

The term “harp seal” is used to describe two species of seals, the Australian fur seal and leopard seal. Both of these animals have sharp jaws, long teeth, and acute eyesight above and below water.

Additionally, their tapered bodies allow them to swim swiftly through the water, making them even more skilled and fierce hunters.

The average length of an orca is about 6-8 meters (20-26 feet), with a maximum length of 12 to 14 meters (40-46 feet).

They can weigh up to 6 tonnes. The females are generally smaller, weighing between 3 and 4 tonnes. Juvenile orcas measure around 8 feet in length when born and weigh around 400 pounds.

Within the world’s seas, there have been recorded sightings of albino and melanistic orcas (or completely white or totally black orcas).


Orcas are widely dispersed, more so than any other mammal. They can be found in the coastal regions surrounding most nations and can adjusts to any weather. They may be located at both the equator and the poles, as well as in the waters of the North and South poles.

The highest concentration of whales, according to scientists, can be found along the Norwegian coast, in the Aleutian Islands, in the Gulf of Alaska, and off Antarctica.

Other popular locations where whales may be seen include British Columbia’s coast, Washington’s coast, Oregon’s coast, Iceland’s sea area and the Faroe Islands.

These creatures are routinely sighted in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, among other locations. These whales have been observed in locations throughout the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Indian Ocean. 


The Orca has a wide range of foods. Some orcas solely eat fish, while others hunt bigger animals, giving them their name “killer whale.” They prey on seals, as well as other dolphins. Orcas have also been observed attacking larger whales like baleen whales.

Hunting and attacking a bigger creature isn’t simple, though. It might take hours for a pod of orcas to track and attack a bigger animal. They’ll typically look for individuals who are weak or the young. They may drown a calf that they’ve separated from the mother and eat just parts of it.

Orca females frequently beach themselves on land in order to capture seals. They leap out of the water, land on ice or sand, capture their prey, and then return to the sea.

There was even a confirmed instance of an orca pack attacking a blue whale in 2018. Orcas are also renowned for their echolocation skills, which allow them to detect the position and features of their food.


Every three to ten years, a female orca gives birth to one juvenile. It’s due to the species’ slow reproductive cycle that it has trouble repopulating.

Orcas are an exceptional example of a highly intelligent breed. They can live up to 60 years old and reach the size of a small car when fully grown.

Orcas are the only creatures known to go through menopause and continue living for a time afterward. Also noteworthy is the fact that males reach maturity at the age of fifteen but don’t reproduce for several years more. Moreover, they have a shorter lifespan than females, which ranges from 30 to 60 years old instead of 50 to 100 years old.

The intricacy of their social structure sets them apart from other marine animals. They have strong social connections that are only one aspect of why keeping them in captivity is considered to be inhumane.

They generally travel with as many as four generations of relatives. These communities are exceptionally long-lasting and matrilineal.


Like orcas, dolphins are highly intelligent marine mammals. Read on to learn more about the dolphin.

What is a Dolphin? 

Dolphins are mammals, and they are classified into five families. The ocean dolphin is the largest family, with 38 species. The remaining four families contain only one species each.

The orca, often thought of as a whale, is actually a dolphin. It’s one of the biggest, along with the pilot whale and false killer whale. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the New Zealand dolphin and tucuxi are the smallest.

Dolphins are among the most intelligent non-human animals on the planet. They have been shown to be able to mimic, exhibit self-awareness, solve problems, feel empathy, and more in studies about their intellect.

dolphin smiling


Dolphins are leaner and more elegant than orcas. Additionally, they may hunt for longer periods of time due to their greater beaked jaws and speed through the water.

In contrast to orcas, they have a more obvious grin. Moreover, their teeth are different. Dolphins also have a rounded or hooked fin on their backs, according to Live Science.

The spinner dolphin has an enormous jaw, with up to 240 teeth in the mouth of the male. The form and position of their teeth are dependent on their species. Conical teeth are common among ocean dolphins and are used for catching fish.


By herding prey, dolphins obtain their food. A school of fish is herded into a small group, generally known as a bait ball, by a pod. Individual members of the species swim throughout the formation of fish, feeding at leisure. Bottlenose dolphins have been observed stranding their catch on a beach to consume it.

Dolphin diet varies, depending on the location. Prey consists of fish, squid, and jellyfish. Because dolphins may be found in almost every ocean throughout the world, they typically consume whatever fish they encounter. This might be influenced by seasonal changes as well.

Dolphins also use echolocation. They may hunt this way by reflecting sound or echoes. This can be used to detect food and discover essential information about the target’s size and other features.


A dolphin mother and her calf are born separately. Their pregnancies range from nine to sixteen months. The youngsters then stay with their mothers for several years, during which the mother teaches them everything they need to know about life. Dolphins can live up to 80 years old in captivity.

Dolphins are highly sociable, like orcas. They spend time in large groups (although usually smaller), and communicate via a series of whistles and squeals.

dolphins swimming

Orca vs Dolphin: Threats

Orca and dolphin populations are declining owing to industrial fishing, nets and pollution. In addition to this, chemical spills, sound pollution, and temperature changes in the sea. The orca and dolphin are at significant risk from pollutants in the ocean as top-level predators with a high trophic position.. 

This is especially true for orcas that are sensitive to a specific toxin—polychlorinated biphenyls. It can build up in the blubber of these whales, which is extremely hazardous when food is limited and the whale burns through its blubber for energy.

The worldwide orca population is estimated to be around 50,000 individuals. According to the 2006 study, titled Worldwide Distribution and Abundance of Killer Whales, this number comes from a survey of scientists.

The IUCN classifies five dolphin species as endangered: the Atlantic humpback dolphin, Amazon River dolphin, Baiji dolphin, Maui dolphin, and South Asian River dolphin. Killing for food and bycatch are mostly to blame.


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