Do Orcas Eat Dolphins? Are Orcas Even Whales? All You Need to Know About Orcas

Anna Garrison - Author

Jun. 27 2023, Published 2:02 p.m. ET

Recently, the giant sea creatures known as orca whales have grown in popularity after their behavioral developments became international news. Now that the mystery of why they've been sinking boats is more or less solved, people are curious about other attributes orcas possess.

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Many ocean lovers are already knowledgeable about sharks or dolphins, but there's less enthusiasm for "killer whales." Despite an intimidating nickname, their diet mostly consists of other sea creatures. Do orca whales eat dolphins? Here's what you need to know about these beautiful mammals.

Pod of orcas looking for food in the ice.
Source: Bryan Goff/Unsplash
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So, do orca whales eat dolphins?

According to, orca whales are known as "generalist eaters," meaning they regularly consume fish, seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, sharks, rays, seabirds, squids, and more.

You might not know that orcas are picky eaters, and some have very specific diets! Generally, it's believed that orcas will eat what their families eat, and not all orca whales eat the same foods.

In 2019, CBC reported in surprise that a pod of dolphins was swimming with a pod of orcas. As it turns out, orca whales that eat dolphins specifically are called "Bigg's orcas," while the variety swimming happily alongside their new aquatic friends are Southern resident orcas.

The difference is nearly imperceptible because the two are so physically similar, but somehow, the dolphins knew. Southern resident orcas are strictly pescatarian and exclusively eat fish, so they mean no harm to the dolphins.

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An orca whale swims in waters.
Source: Chris LeBoutillier/Unsplash

Are orcas whales or dolphins?

Despite being named orca whales, you might be surprised to know that an orca is considered a kind of dolphin. According to Ocean Conservancy, orca's teeth make them the suborder Odontoceti, or "toothed whales." They aren't considered whales, however, because their family is technically Delphinidaebetter known as dolphins.

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Technically, an orca is the largest of all dolphin species. So, how did they get the name whales if they're technically dolphins?

Ocean Conservancy says that according to urban legend, many sailors who hunted whales spotted orcas preying on whales and dolphins, giving them the nickname "whale killer." Over time, that nickname morphed into "killer whale."

A pod of orca whales swimming together.
Source: Mike Doherty/Unsplash
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There are a few positive similarities between orcas and dolphins. Business Insider says that, like dolphins, orcas are known for their intelligence, forming life-long bonds with their offspring. Each pod also has a unique method of hunting and communication, sometimes even learning to communicate like dolphins, according to one study by the Acoustical Society of America.

Orcas are a fascinating species worthy of study and attention, even if we don't fully yet understand the extent of their behaviors. Unfortunately, many orcas' natural migration patterns have been disrupted by climate change, and it will only continue to worsen unless we make significant strides to combat the climate crisis.

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