Whale vs. Dolphin: What's the Difference?
Whales are large, often filter-feeding marine mammals, while dolphins are smaller, toothed, and characterized by a bottlenose.
Whales encompass a wide range of marine mammals within the cetacean family. Dolphins, conversely, are a specific subgroup of toothed whales, and they typically possess a notably curved dorsal fin and a bottle-shaped nose.
Whales generally display a vast array of sizes, from the massive blue whale to much smaller species. Dolphins distinguish themselves with not just their smaller size compared to many whales, but also with their sociable and highly intelligent behavior.
While some whales, like baleen whales, use baleen plates to filter small organisms from seawater for their nutrition, dolphins consistently utilize their teeth to grasp their prey, showcasing different feeding strategies between the two.
Whales are not as universally sociable as dolphins, with certain species being more solitary or forming smaller pods. Dolphins are widely recognized for their playful demeanor, acrobatic abilities, and intricate social structures.
Scientifically, dolphins are categorized within the toothed whale suborder, making all dolphins technically whales, but not all whales are dolphins, displaying the nuanced difference and similarity between the two terms.
Generally larger with vast size range.
Smaller and sleeker in comparison.
Include filter-feeders (baleen whales).
Consistently toothed and predatory.
Dorsal Fin Shape
Varied, some species lack a dorsal fin.
Characteristically curved dorsal fin.
Varies, from solitary to social species.
Notably sociable and playful.
Include toothed and baleen suborders.
Belong to the toothed whale suborder.
Whale and Dolphin Definitions
A large marine mammal with a streamlined shape.
The blue whale is the largest animal on Earth.
A structure for mooring vessels.
The ship was tied securely to the dolphin.
To engage in hearty, continuous eating.
He decided to whale on the huge burger.
A French historical coin.
He collected an old gold dolphin from the 16th century.
To strike repeatedly and forcefully.
The boxer began to whale on the punching bag.
A small-toothed marine mammal with a bulbous beak and curved dorsal fin.
The dolphin gracefully leaped above the ocean surface.
To hunt for whales (whaling).
The ship was historically used to whale in Arctic waters.
A kind of wreath or strap for securing a hat to the head.
She used a dolphin to keep her hat in place during the windy day.
A remarkable, impressive individual.
With his vast knowledge, he's a whale in the science world.
Any of various marine toothed whales of the family Delphinidae, having a beaklike snout, a curved dorsal fin, and a slender streamlined body.
Any of various marine mammals of the order Cetacea; a cetacean.
Any of several toothed whales inhabiting rivers and estuaries in South America and South Asia, having a long narrow beak, broad flippers, a flexible neck, and usually a reduced dorsal fin. A species native to the Yangtze River is thought to be extinct. Also called river dolphin.
Any of various larger members of this order, including the blue whale, humpback whale, and right whale, in contrast to the porpoises and dolphins.
(Informal) An impressive example
A whale of a story.
See pompano dolphinfish.
To engage in the hunting of whales.
A buoy, pile, or group of piles used for mooring boats.
To strike or hit repeatedly and forcefully; thrash.
A group of piles used as a fender, as at a dock or around a bridge pier.
To strike or hit (a ball) with great force.
A carnivorous aquatic mammal in one of several families of order Cetacea, famed for its intelligence and occasional willingness to approach humans.
To strike or hit a person or thing repeatedly and forcefully
Whaled away at the plaster wall with a mallet.
Tursiops truncatus, (Atlantic bottlenose dolphin) the most well-known species.
To swing at a ball with great effort, especially repeatedly.
A fish, the mahi-mahi or dorado, Coryphaena hippurus, with a dorsal fin that runs the length of the body, also known for iridescent coloration.
To attack vehemently
The poet whaled away at the critics.
(heraldry) A depiction of a fish, with a broad indented fin, usually embowed.
Any one of numerous large marine mammals comprising an informal group within infraorder Cetacea that usually excludes dolphins and porpoises.
The dauphin, eldest son of the kings of France.
(by extension) Any species of Cetacea.
(history) A mass of iron or lead hung from the yardarm, in readiness to be dropped through the deck and the hull of an enemy's vessel to sink it.
(figuratively) Something, or someone, that is very large.
(nautical) A kind of wreath or strap of plaited cordage.
Something, or someone, that is excellent.
(nautical) A spar or buoy held by an anchor and furnished with a ring to which ships may fasten their cables.
(gambling) In a casino, a person who routinely bets at the maximum limit allowable.
(nautical) A mooring post on a wharf or beach.
An investor who deals with very large amounts of money.
(nautical) A permanent fender designed to protect a heavy boat or coastal structure from the impact of large floating objects such as ice or floating logs.
A person who spends large amounts of money on things that are marketed to them.
One of the handles above the trunnions by which a gun was lifted.
(intransitive) To hunt for whales.
(nautical) A man-made semi submerged maritime structure, usually installed to provide a fixed structure for temporary mooring, to prevent ships from drifting to shallow water or to serve as base for navigational aids.
To thrash, to flog, to beat vigorously or soundly.
A cetacean of the genus Delphinus and allied genera (esp. Delphinus delphis); the true dolphin.
Any aquatic mammal of the order Cetacea, especially any one of the large species, some of which become nearly one hundred feet long. Whales are hunted chiefly for their oil and baleen, or whalebone.
The Coryphæna hippuris, a fish of about five feet in length, celebrated for its surprising changes of color when dying. It is the fish commonly known as the dolphin. The term is also applied to the related Coryphaena equisetis. Called also dolphinfish and (especially in Hawaii) mahimahi. See also dolphinfish and Coryphænoid.
A very large person; impressive in size or qualities
A mass of iron or lead hung from the yardarm, in readiness to be dropped on the deck of an enemy's vessel.
Any of the larger cetacean mammals having a streamlined body and breathing through a blowhole on the head
A kind of wreath or strap of plaited cordage.
Hunt for whales
In old ordnance, one of the handles above the trunnions by which a cannon was lifted.
Large slender food and game fish widely distributed in warm seas (especially around Hawaii)
Any of various small toothed whales with a beaklike snout; larger than porpoises
A constellation (Delphinus).
At certain times of the year, you can see the dolphin constellation in the night sky.
How do dolphins communicate?
Dolphins communicate using a variety of clicks, whistle-like sounds, and body movements.
Are whales and dolphins mammals or fish?
Both whales and dolphins are marine mammals, not fish.
Do all whales have teeth?
No, whales can be toothed or baleen, with the latter using baleen plates to filter-feed instead of teeth.
Do dolphins have a good sense of hearing?
Yes, dolphins have an excellent sense of hearing, crucial for their echolocation abilities.
What do whales typically eat?
Diet varies; baleen whales filter-feed on small organisms, while toothed whales may hunt fish or squid.
Are dolphins considered whales scientifically?
Yes, dolphins are technically toothed whales within the scientific classification.
What is the largest species of whale?
The blue whale is the largest species, reaching up to 100 feet and weighing as much as 200 tons.
Why do whales breach?
While the exact reason isn’t known, hypotheses include communication, removing parasites, and playful behavior.
What is the lifespan of a whale?
Whales have varied lifespans; for example, bowhead whales can live over 200 years, while orcas live around 60-80 years.
Can dolphins live in freshwater?
Some species, like the Amazon river dolphin, can live in freshwater environments.
How intelligent are dolphins?
Dolphins are highly intelligent, displaying traits like self-awareness, problem-solving, and complex social behavior.
Do dolphins sleep?
Dolphins do sleep but remain partially conscious to control breathing and watch for threats or obstacles.
Which whale species can sing?
Humpback whales are renowned for their complex and melodious songs.
How fast can a dolphin swim?
Dolphins can reach speeds up to 60 km/h (37 mph) depending on the species.
What is the smallest whale species?
The dwarf sperm whale is among the smallest, reaching lengths of about 2.7 meters (8.9 feet).
Are whales endangered?
Some whale species are endangered, such as the North Atlantic right whale, while others have stable populations.
Are dolphins friendly to humans?
While often portrayed as friendly, dolphins are wild animals, and interactions can be unpredictable.
Can whales and dolphins see well?
Whales and dolphins have relatively good vision both in and out of the water, complementing their advanced echolocation skills.
How deep can dolphins dive?
Some dolphins, like the bottlenose, can dive over 300 meters (1,000 feet).
How big is a blue whale’s heart?
A blue whale’s heart can be as large as a small car and weigh around 400 pounds.
Written bySawaira Riaz
Sawaira is a dedicated content editor at difference.wiki, where she meticulously refines articles to ensure clarity and accuracy. With a keen eye for detail, she upholds the site's commitment to delivering insightful and precise content.
Edited byHuma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.