scorecardresearch

One could be forgiven for thinking that the orca is a whale. First of all, it’s commonly known as the killer whale. Then, you’ve got its size to consider: at up to 30 feet long, the orca is a whole lot bigger than any dolphins that come to mind. Plus, it doesn’t have the distinct bottlenose that dolphins sport.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. In this case, all signs point to whale. But no, the orca is not a duck…I mean, whale. So, are orcas whales? The orca is actually, despite all evidence to the contrary, a dolphin.

A Whale of a Dolphin

Once again, it’s completely understandable that someone would reason that an orca is a whale. After all, they are a member of the infraorder Cetacea, which contains all whales and dolphins and comes from the Latin word cetus, for whale. Score one for whale.

To go even further down the rabbit hole, orcas are a part of Odontoceti, or the toothed whales. That’s a lot of “whales” piling up in the killer whale’s taxonomic tree.

But alas, this is where the whales stop. Within the Odontoceti, orcas are members of Delphinidae or the dolphin family. While other toothed whales, like the sperm whale or narwhal, are considered whales, all members of Delphinidae, including orcas, are not. They’re dolphins.

Misnomer

It turns out, while we’ve been calling them killer whales for so many years, we’ve actually had it backward. The name started out as “whale killer,” because sailors witnessed them attacking and eating the calves of large whales. Whoops.

But don’t worry, killer whales aren’t the only misnamed dolphins. The melon-headed whale, pygmy killer whale, false killer whale, and pilot whales are all, likewise, dolphins. They each got their “whalehood” due to their size, but that doesn’t make it so. You can’t tell people you own a wolf just because your dog is really big.

A Better Name

The term “orca” has recently come into favor, largely because of killer whale’s negative connotations, but there’s a second reason the name is superior: it’s accurate. So, for me, since I don’t feel like calling them “killer dolphins,” maybe I’ll stick to orca.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4


Factinate Featured Logo Featured Article
When Edward VIII’s baby brother Prince John died of severe seizure at only 13 years old, Edward’s response was so disturbing it’s impossible to forget.
43 Scandalous Facts About Edward VIII, The King Who Lost His Crown 43 Scandalous Facts About Edward VIII, The King Who Lost His Crown “I wanted to be an up-to-date king. But I didn't have much time.”—King Edward VIII. For such a short-reigning king, Edward VIII left behind no shortage of controversy. First, there was the scandalous womanizing of…
Factinate Featured Logo Featured Article
The average person doesn't even get 50% correct. I guess it's hard to be smarter than an 8th grader...
Quiz: Are You Smarter Than An Eighth-Grader? Quiz: Are You Smarter Than An Eighth-Grader?
Factinate Featured Logo Featured Article
I had an imaginary friend named Charlie. My parents asked what he looked like, and I always replied “a little man.” When we moved away, Charlie didn't come with us. My mom asked where he was, and I told her that he was going to be a mannequin at Sears—but that wasn’t even the most disturbing part. The years passed by and I’d forgotten my imaginary friend, but when someone told me a story about my old house, I was chilled to the bone.
People Describe Creepy Imaginary Friends from Their Childhood People Describe Creepy Imaginary Friends from Their Childhood “I was a loner as a child. I had an imaginary friend—I didn't bother with him.”—George Carlin. Many adults had imaginary friends as children. At their best, these make-believe buddies were cute, helpful, and whimsical…
Factinate Featured Logo Featured Article
The average person only gets 10 right. You muggles don't stand a chance...
Quiz: How Much Do You Really Know About Harry Potter? Quiz: How Much Do You Really Know About Harry Potter?


Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to contribute@factinate.com. Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at contribute@factinate.com. Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team