Dolphins vs Whales: Difference and Comparison

Marine wildlife is one of the most beautiful things in the world. The different species with different appearances, techniques, and habitats make each species unique and special.

Dolphins and whales are two of the most known species living underwater. They are also an integral part of our ecosystem.

Key Takeaways

  1. Dolphins are smaller, more agile marine mammals with streamlined bodies, elongated snouts, and dorsal fins, while whales are larger, bulkier, and have a more diverse range of body shapes.
  2. Dolphins are primarily carnivorous, feeding on fish and squid, whereas whales have varied diets depending on their species, including krill, plankton, and other marine life.
  3. Both dolphins and whales are part of the Cetacea order. Still, they belong to different families, with dolphins in the Delphinidae family and whales in several families, such as Balaenopteridae and Physeteridae.

Dolphins vs Whales

Dolphins are aquatic mammals that belong to the 40 species and prefer to be in warm waters close to tropical zones. They have strong hearing and communicate through whistles and echoes. Whales are a type of aquatic animal that stays in the open ocean, and they can feed, mate, give birth and raise their young at sea.

Dolphins vs Whales

Dolphins are widespread aquatic animals but commonly prefer to be in warm waters near tropical zones. They are somewhat smaller whales.


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They mainly rely on fish and squids for their food. They have a really strong hearing capacity and communicate through vocalization in the form of whistles and echoes.  

Whales are another type of aquatic animal which are also widespread but commonly prefer to be in cold waters in the northern and southern hemispheres.

They do come near the equator to give birth. Some species are the largest on the earth. They are not quite social and prefer to be alone.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonDolphins Whales
Family tiesEvery dolphin is a whale.Every whale is not a dolphin.
CommunicationThe most common way of communication for hunting and navigation is echolocation.Singing is a form of communication used by the baleen whale.
Dorsal finsThey are accommodated with well-defined dorsal fins.They are accommodated with tiny or no dorsal fins.
NeckSome have flexible necks.Their evolution over time has helped them in obtaining a fused neck vertebra.
BlowholesDolphins and toothed whales have a single blowhole.Two blowholes can be found in Baleen whales.
HabitatThey are highly social. They prefer living in groups or pods.Big whales prefer to be more solitary.

What are Dolphins?

Sometimes Dolphins can leap approximately 30 feet. Sexual dimorphism is seen in several species of dolphins. In these, the females are smaller than the males.

They are accommodated with streamlined bodies and two limbs, which are also their flippers. They are not flexible like seals.

There are some species that can travel at 29 kilometres per hour. The conical-shaped teeth are used for capturing fast-moving prey.

Their hearing is so incredible that they can hear underwater as well as above the water. It is so strong that they can survive even without seeing.

Certain species can dive deeper into the greater depths. They are equipped with blubber that is found under their skin. This layer keeps them warm in the cold water. 

The population of dolphins is widespread. However, they mostly prefer warm water in tropical zones. The right whale dolphin is one of the few who prefer cold waters.

Their main source of food is fish and squids. Larger ones feed on larger mammals. The males mate with different females in a year, Whereas females only mate once in 2 to 3 years.

They like to be in groups and help each other in various activities, including raising calves and hunting.


What are Whales?

Whales refer to the widespread and diverse group of complete aquatic placental marine mammals. They belong to the infraorder Cetacea, which does not include dolphins or porpoises.

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises fall under the same order as Cetartiodactyla. A whale is a completely aquatic animal. The largest known creature that has ever lived is the blue whale.

The second-largest predator is the sperm whale. Several females are larger than males. Whales are not very social creatures. They prefer solidarity.

Baleen whales are whales that have no teeth. However, they are equipped with plates of baleen which are fringe-like structures.

These structures help them in expelling huge mouthfuls of water intake. Their heads have approximately 40 % of their total body mass.

Baleen whales have an incredible sense of smell and can communicate by singing.

Toothed whales are those which are equipped with conical teeth for catching fish or squid. They also have incredible hearing and can dive to great depths.

Their blowholes help them in expelling the air that is taken in. These creatures are warm-blooded. Whales are also capable of travelling at a faster speed.

Whales are capable of producing a great variety of vocalizations. Whales are really widespread, but they prefer colder regions with cold waters. Some can travel thousands of miles without feeding.


Main Differences Between Dolphins and Whales

  1. Every dolphin is a whale. However, every whale is not a dolphin. Dolphins are more or less like smaller whales.
  2. The most common way of communication dolphins use for hunting, and navigation is echolocation. Singing is a form of communication used by the baleen whale.
  3. Dolphins and toothed whales are accommodated with well-defined dorsal fins. Some whales are accommodated with tiny or no dorsal fins.
  4. Some dolphins have flexible necks. The evolution of whales over time has helped them obtain fused neck vertebrae.
  5. Dolphins and toothed whales have a single blowhole. Two blowholes can be found in Baleen whales.
  6. They are highly social. They prefer living in groups or pods. Big whales prefer to be more solitary.
Difference Between Dolphins and Whales
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