Spoiler alert: dolphins are actually whales. At least they belong to the cetacean family. Scientifically speaking, all whales, dolphins and porpoises belong to cetaceans (cetaceans). Within cetaceans, there are two suborders: baleen whales and toothed whales. Most baleen whales are huge, like blue whales and humpback whales. Toothed whales include dolphins and orcas. Orcas are actually the largest dolphins and can grow up to ten meters in length. Most dolphins are around two to three meters long. So yes, orcas are dolphins, and dolphins are whales!
Let yourself be carried away
Dolphins and baleen whales are mammals and therefore must come to the surface to breathe. They breathe through their vent above their head. They are also very intelligent animals. Both produce sounds to communicate. Because whales communicate primarily underwater, you are likely less familiar with these sounds than the distinctive dolphin snapping and hissing sounds. The sound of the whale is very special, it is also called the song of the whale. The whales seem to actually be singing, given the predictable and recognizable pattern of the sounds. Dolphins, on the other hand, can use echolocation as well, which baleen whales cannot.
A good snack
Despite their enormous size, baleen whales eat krill: small, shrimp-like creatures. But they eat huge amounts of it. They literally eat tons of krill and small fish, rather than a few big fish. Dolphins, on the other hand, eat different types of fish and shellfish, such as shrimp. The types of fish they eat depend on where they live and the species that swim there.
Real group animals
Almost all dolphins and baleen whales live in groups. It is safer and easier to hunt for food. A group of dolphins can consist of a few dolphins to hundreds or even thousands of animals because they are very social. Humpback whales are more solitary in nature and usually live in small groups of two or three animals. Due to their size alone, they are much less likely to be attacked than dolphins. Both species reproduce more slowly than other animals – in this respect, they resemble humans. Dolphins and baleen whales only have one young at a time. Dolphins have one pup every two to three years, baleen whales usually once every two to five years. Most dolphins have a gestation period of ten to twelve months, depending on the species. Orcas have a gestation period of no less than eighteen months!
Are they endangered species?
Like many other animals, marine animals suffer from the effects of climate change and human activity. Due to the many collisions with ships and entanglements in fishing nets, several species are even on the brink of extinction. Only 9 or 10 California porpoises and about 55 Maui dolphins remain. The Maui dolphin lives only off the coast of New Zealand. With numbers below 360, the northern right whale is also critically endangered.
How IFAW protects marine animals …
It is important to protect the oceans and the animals that live in them. This International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is at the forefront of on-site medical examinations and treatment for stranded dolphins and whales. In this way, the animals not only have a greater chance of survival, but also to have a good life after release. Since 1998, the dolphin release rate has increased from 15 percent to over 79 percent. Today, IFAW is an expert in rescuing stranded and entangled marine life and sharing our knowledge with other professionals around the world. Together, we are developing a global network for the rescue of mammals in all the oceans. In the Netherlands, we have supported the local organization SOS Dolfijn in recent years. We are also working with this organization, now and in the future.
Photos: Scott Portelli (main photo: a group of common dolphins swimming underwater off the Azores, a group of Portuguese islands); Lisa Skelton; Vanessa Mignon
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