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Whale vs. Shark: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 28, 2023
Whales are large, intelligent mammals that breathe air, while sharks are fish with cartilaginous skeletons and gills for underwater breathing.

Key Differences

Whales are mammals belonging to the Cetacea order, characterized by their warm-blooded nature, air-breathing lungs, and nursing their young. Sharks, in contrast, are a group of fish under the Chondrichthyes class, known for their cartilaginous skeletons and gill breathing.
Whales, generally larger than sharks, have streamlined bodies, a horizontal tail fin, and breathe through a blowhole. While, sharks are distinguished by their multiple gill slits, sharp teeth, and a vertical tail fin.
Whales inhabit various marine environments, from the deep ocean to coastal areas, and are known for complex behaviors like singing and social structures. Sharks, diverse in habitat, are found in oceans worldwide and exhibit a range of behaviors from solitary to schooling.
The diet of whales varies; some filter-feed on krill, while others hunt larger prey. Sharks are predominantly carnivorous, with diets ranging from plankton to larger marine animals, depending on the species.
Many whale species have faced threats from hunting and habitat loss, leading to conservation efforts. Sharks also face challenges like overfishing and habitat destruction, impacting their populations globally.

Comparison Chart






Lungs, air-breathing
Gills, underwater breathing


Live birth, nursing
Egg-laying or live birth

Temperature Regulation


Whale and Shark Definitions


Some whales are known for their filter-feeding mechanism, like baleen whales.
Humpback whales are famous for their acrobatic breaches and unique songs.


Sharks are fish with cartilaginous skeletons, sharp teeth, and multiple gill slits.
Great white sharks are one of the most well-known and feared shark species.


Whales are air-breathing, warm-blooded creatures, often known for their intelligence.
Whales use complex vocalizations for communication and navigation.


Sharks have a highly developed sense of smell and can detect blood in the water from miles away.
Shark's ability to detect electric fields helps them locate prey even in murky waters.


A large marine mammal with a streamlined body and horizontal tail fin.
The blue whale is the largest animal ever known to have existed.


Known for their predatory skills, sharks play a crucial role in marine ecosystems.
The hammerhead shark is easily recognizable by its unique head shape.


Whales have been culturally significant in human history, often featuring in mythology and art.
In many cultures, whales are revered and featured in folklore and legends.


Sharks range in size from small species like the dwarf lantern shark to the whale shark.
Whale sharks, despite their size, feed primarily on plankton.


Whales are integral to marine ecosystems and often indicator species for ocean health.
The presence of whales often indicates a healthy marine ecosystem.


Sharks are often misunderstood and misrepresented, leading to conservation challenges.
Shark finning has significantly impacted shark populations worldwide.


Any of various marine mammals of the order Cetacea; a cetacean.


Any of numerous cartilaginous fishes of the subclass Elasmobranchii that are chiefly carnivorous and marine. Sharks have a streamlined torpedolike body, five to seven gill openings on each side of the head, a large oil-filled liver, and tough skin covered with small toothlike scales.


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)A person, such as a loan shark, who takes advantage of the misfortune of others for personal gain.


(Informal)A person unusually skilled in a particular activity
A card shark.


Are sharks cold-blooded?

Yes, sharks are cold-blooded.

What is the largest species of whale?

The blue whale is the largest known whale species.

Do whales sleep?

Whales do sleep but in a semi-conscious state as they need to surface to breathe.

Do all sharks have sharp teeth?

Most sharks have sharp teeth, but some, like the whale shark, have small, non-functional teeth.

Can whales live in freshwater?

Some whales, like the beluga, can venture into freshwater, but most live in saltwater.

How long do sharks live?

Shark lifespans vary by species, ranging from a few years to over a hundred years.

How do whales communicate?

Whales communicate using a variety of sounds, including songs and clicks.

Are whales social animals?

Many whale species are highly social, living in groups or pods.

Do whales migrate?

Many whale species migrate long distances for feeding and breeding.

What do sharks eat?

Shark diets vary from plankton to fish and marine mammals, depending on the species.

Can sharks be found in all oceans?

Sharks inhabit most ocean waters, from shallow to deep seas.

Are all sharks dangerous to humans?

Most shark species are harmless to humans, and shark attacks are rare.

Do whales have teeth?

Some whales have teeth, while others have baleen plates for filter feeding.

How do whales breathe?

Whales breathe air through their blowholes.

How fast can sharks swim?

Some sharks, like the shortfin mako, can swim up to 60 mph.

Do sharks have bones?

Sharks do not have bones; their skeletons are made of cartilage.

What threats do whales face?

Whales face threats from hunting, pollution, and habitat loss.

What is the smallest shark species?

The dwarf lantern shark is considered the smallest shark species.

Are whales endangered?

Some whale species are endangered, while others have stable populations.

What is the purpose of a shark's fin?

Shark fins provide stability and direction during swimming.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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