Killer whales and sharks are two of the most famous creatures in the world’s oceans. They are all amazing creatures that play different roles in their aquatic ecosystems. Today, we’ll compare these two top predators to learn more about them. Although they have some similarities, they are quite different. Let’s Explore: Killer Whales vs. Sharks; What Makes Them Different?
Comparing Killer Whales and Sharks
|size||Length: 20-26 feet long|
Weight: 6+ tons
|Smallest Shark: Pygmy Lanternshark|
Largest Shark: Whale Shark
|appearance||It looks like a dolphin. Unique black and white pigmentation.||They vary widely, but usually have gray bodies and pronounced fins.|
|Classification||mammal. Belongs to the suborder Cetaceae (whales). Member of the dolphin family.||Cartilaginous (cartilage-based) fish. Related to rays and other nonteleost fish.|
|distribute||Distributed in arctic and tropical waters worldwide.||in all waters of the world.|
|underwater breathing||Breathe the air. Can hold your breath for 15 minutes.||Breathes water through gills.|
|diet||top predator. Fish, Sharks, Rays, Mammals, Whales, Seals and just about every other animal.||Floating. almost everything.|
|predator||There are no natural enemies.||Anything bigger than that, especially killer whales.|
7 Key Differences Between Killer Whales and Sharks
The key difference between killer whales and sharks is that killer whales are mammals that have a distinct black and white coloration and are regular predators of sharks. Sharks are a group of cartilage-based fishes with 5-7 gill slits and pectoral fins that do not fuse with the head.
Killer whales or orcas are known to be a type of toothed whale belonging to the family Dolphinidae. They are large creatures and are considered the top predators of the ocean without much competition. Additionally, orcas are highly intelligent, social, and love to hunt in packs. Sharks are well-known predators in the world’s oceans, with more than 500 species documented. There’s a lot of variation in that big group.
Orcas are one of the larger creatures in the ocean, although the largest shark (the whale shark) is even bigger. However, the great white, the world’s largest predatory shark, is still smaller than an adult killer whale. Only filter-feeding sharks like whale sharks and sharks rival orcas in size.
While both creatures can strike fear into the hearts of swimmers, they are easy to tell apart. Orcas have a distinctive black and white pattern, similar to pandas. Additionally, they have teeth in their mouths and a much longer dorsal fin than sharks. Sharks vary in appearance from species to species, but most are long, streamlined and gray.
In addition to these differences, there are several differences, including their classification, distribution, and diet. Let’s explore killer whales vs. sharks further below!
Killer Whales vs Sharks: Dimensions
In terms of size, killer whales are generally larger than sharks. Adult killer whales are 20-26 feet long and weigh more than 6 tons. Females are a few feet shorter and a little lighter.
Sharks vary greatly in size. The world’s smallest shark is smaller than a human hand, but the largest species, the whale shark, weighs 15 tons and is 60 feet long. The largest predatory shark, the great white, can grow up to 21 feet long and weigh between 1,200 and 1,700 pounds. Only filter-feeding sharks grow larger than orcas.
Killer Whales vs Sharks: The Look
There are few creatures in the ocean more unique than killer whales. Killer whales have a well-defined whale or dolphin-like body shape, but with their famous black and white patterns. They have round snouts and long dorsal fins.
Sharks vary in appearance from species to species. Many predatory sharks have gray bodies, sharp teeth, and a prominent dorsal fin that occasionally sticks out of the water. Still, hundreds of variants have emerged, with anomalies such as hammerheads, megamouths, and goblin sharks all having wildly different appearances.
Killer Whales vs Sharks: A Classification
Although killer whales live in the ocean, they are technically classified as mammals. Orcas belong to the same group as sperm whales known as toothed whales. All whales are cetaceans, including dolphins, and killer whales are specifically classified as members of the dolphin family.
Sharks are very ancient creatures dating back millions of years. They are technically fishes and are further classified as cartilaginous or cartilage-based fishes rather than bony fishes.
Killer Whales vs. Sharks: Distribution
Killer whales are extremely widespread animals that can be found in almost every ocean in the world, including cold oceans. They have a “cosmopolitan” distribution, which means they are found almost everywhere. These hardy animals can even be found in Arctic and Antarctic oceans.
Individual shark species are often grouped into certain regions, but entire groups can be found in nearly every part of the world’s oceans. Sharks can be found anywhere from the surface-dwelling nurse shark to the deep-sea Portuguese dogfish that lives 12,057 feet below the surface.
Killer Whales vs. Sharks: Breathing Underwater
As mammals, orcas cannot breathe in water. Instead, they utilize a blowhole, similar to other whales. One breath, orcas can stay underwater for about 15 minutes.
Sharks do breathe underwater and use their gills to breathe. However, in order for a shark to breathe, it needs to be constantly moving to force fresh water through its gills, drawing oxygen from the water.
Killer Whales vs. Sharks: Diet
Orcas are top predators in any environment. Lone orcas can kill seals, sea lions, sea turtles, and even sharks and dolphins. In many locations, orcas target sharks, turning them upside down to paralyze them, then eating their livers. As a group, orcas are able to kill large whales together.
Sharks are also top predators, although their diet depends largely on the species. Large predatory sharks kill turtles, seals, fish and other similar prey. Filter feeders swallow large amounts of water and pass it through filter pads to remove the tiny microbes they feed on.
Orca vs. Shark: Predator
Orcas have few natural predators in the wild. The only real threats they face come from humans and man-made events.
The size of a shark primarily determines how well it preys. When a shark is small, almost any larger fish can prey on it, since they are not as protected as orcas are by adults. There is a risk to smaller sharks, larger fish, other sharks and more. For large sharks like tiger sharks and great whites, the only real threat is killer whales.
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Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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