Orcas: Dolphins or Whales?

Orcas: Whales or Dolphins?

Orcas are some of the ocean’s most recognizable inhabitants with their signature black-and-white appearance and massive fins propelling them through the water. There’s a lot we know about these incredible creatures, but there’s one simple question that gets asked over and over again: are orcas considered whales or dolphins?


The orca is among the world’s most powerful predators and is certainly a force to be reckoned with for any fish that crosses its path. These carnivorous marine mammals can live 50 to 80 years in the wild and can stretch up to 32 feet. As far as its weight, an orca can grow up to a whopping six tons!

Like their relatives, orcas are very smart animals. Each group of orcas (known as “pods”) has its own distinct noises that they use to communicate. Orcas often eat fish, penguins, seals, sea lions, and other marine creatures.


The common name for the orca is the “killer whale.” Whales, as you might know, are marine mammals, so it only makes sense to think that an orca is, in fact, a whale. But actually, orcas are dolphins!

Orcas are the largest of all dolphin species and share plenty of characteristics with other dolphins out there. Their scientific family is Delphinidae, or oceanic dolphins. Creatures in this family are known for their curved head, aerodynamic body shapes, and overall compact body types.

There’s no secret that orcas are big, but when compared to true whale species, the orca pales in comparison. The biggest baleen whale, the blue whale, can get up to 100 feet long, whereas the orca tops out at 32 feet.

So, why are orcas called “killer whales” if they’re not whales at all? The name largely comes from the fact that orcas are so quick to prey on other animals (sometimes even on whales themselves!). Hundreds of years ago, sailors who encountered these beasts referred to them as “whale killers,” and eventually, the name got switched to “killer whales.”


While orcas don’t hang around in Myrtle Beach, you can see some of their relatives on one of our eco-tours! Blue Wave Adventures is proud to offer family-friendly boat tours in Myrtle Beach, ideal for nature lovers, history buffs, animal enthusiasts, and everyone in between. Our custom cruise vessel offers an incredible 360-degree view from every seat, and our experienced captains will tell you all about the area and its animal inhabitants throughout your cruise.

Our Myrtle Beach eco-tours give you the chance to see majestic bottlenose dolphins, as well as other creatures like seabirds, dozens of fish species, stingrays, jellyfish, and more. We offer cruises several times every day, so you don’t have to adjust your entire itinerary to join a tour. Plus, if you need help booking your tour or finding other fun things to do in Myrtle Beach, our team is more than happy to help.

Contact Blue Wave Adventures today to learn more!

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