Are dolphins whales? Little-known facts about dolphins.

dolphin bowriding are commonly seen on our luxury whale watching tours 

by Lucky Byfleet

Are dolphins whales? Yes. Dolphins are a type of whale…all dolphins are whales, but not all whales are dolphins…

There is no such thing as a stupid question, and our guides are happy to answer any you may have, but one of the top questions we get asked (after “Can a whale eat a human?”) is are dolphins whales.

Collectively whales, dolphins, and porpoises are part of the whale family. We call them cetaceans.

How do you pronounce cetacean? Suh-tay-shun.

These are water-based mammals evolved from land mammals. They have all the usual properties of mammals – like giving birth to live young, feeding them milk, and breathing air, plus several more properties like being fully aquatic, with a large paddle-like tail to propel them along.

Whales come in two types – according to how they eat, they either have teeth – so are toothed whales – or baleen plates – a filter-feeding system. Most really large whales like humpbacks and blue whales are baleen whales. The only giant toothed whales are sperm whales.

So are dolphins whales? or are whales dolphins?

So dolphins are in the whale family but are technically toothed whales, however small they are. Interestingly, orca, also called killer whales, are actually a type of giant dolphin! They can be almost 10metres long!

Dolphins – toothed whales – have cone-shaped teeth. Porpoises – a cetacean that looks like a small fat dolphin have spade shape teeth, and baleen whales have no teeth at all, just baleen plates.

humpback whale breaching not swallowing humans are dolphins whales
This is a humpback whale, but are dolphins whales? They look so different!

We hope that answered your question, ‘Are dolphins whales?’ if you want to learn more about cetaceans the Encyclopedia Britannica has a great article about them.

Although we have declared that dolphins are indeed whales because they belong to the same family, cateceans, they are very different. Here are some reasons that people don’t usually considered dolphins as whales:

  1. Size: Dolphins are generally smaller than most whale species. While there are some large dolphins, like the killer whale (orca), they are still smaller than many of the baleen whales, such as the blue whale, which is the largest animal on Earth.
  2. Appearance: Dolphins typically have a sleeker and more streamlined body shape compared to many whales. They often have a prominent dorsal fin, while some whale species have smaller or no dorsal fins.
  3. Teeth: Toothed whales, including dolphins, have sharp teeth used for catching and eating prey. Baleen whales, on the other hand, have baleen plates in their mouths instead of teeth, which they use to filter small organisms like krill from the water.
  4. Behavior: Dolphins are known for their playful and social behavior. They are often seen leaping out of the water, riding the bow waves of boats, and interacting with each other in groups. While some whale species can also display playful behavior, it varies among different whale types.
  5. Species Diversity: There are numerous species of both dolphins and whales, each with its own unique characteristics and behaviors. Some examples of dolphins include the bottlenose dolphin, spinner dolphin, and common dolphin. Whale species include the humpback whale, sperm whale, and gray whale, among others.

In summary, dolphins and whales are both cetaceans and share a common evolutionary history. However, they belong to different subgroups within the cetacean family, and they have distinct characteristics, sizes, and behaviors that differentiate them from one another.

We sail daily from Reykjavik harbor, Iceland, on our beautiful yacht Amelia Rose. Hopefully, you can join us soon on one of our wonderful whale watching tours or, during winter months, one of our northern lights tours.


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