What is the biggest dolphin in the world?

Are there any creatures in the ocean cooler or more endearing than the dolphin? Well, perhaps a bigger dolphin? Let's take a look at the biggest dolphin species in the entire world.

Dolphins are unbelievable creatures, but they're not particularly big.
Dolphins are unbelievable creatures, but they're not particularly big.  © Unsplash/Ádám Berkecz

There isn't a person in the world who doesn't love a dolphin, with their gorgeous smiles and majestic jumps.

They are some of the most extraordinary creatures in the ocean, playfully splashing in the waves and catching the imagination of every child who's ever seen one offshore.

So, the bigger, the better, right? Well, it's a little bit more complicated than that.

Skull of marine "behemoth" washes ashore on California coast
Animals Skull of marine "behemoth" washes ashore on California coast

The biggest dolphin in the world is an animal world record that belongs to a creature very different to the joyful jumpers that inhabit our beaches. Instead, they are mysterious beasties so vicious that they kill whales.

What is the largest species of dolphin in the world?

The biggest species of dolphin is the Orca, commonly known as the killer whale. Many people assume, mainly due to their nickname, that the orca is a whale, but it's really a member of the marine dolphin family (otherwise known as delphinidae). Guinness World Records recognizes the orca as the largest dolphin in the entire world.

Orcas typically grow to around 20-26 feet in length when they're male, and about 16-23 feet in females. The largest killer whale ever discovered was a male that had managed to reach 32 feet, one inch, from head to tail. It weighed more than ten tons or about 22,000 pounds. In comparison, the average orca only reaches about six tons in weight or 13,230 pounds.

These wonderful creatures hold several world records, though, also having the tallest dorsal fins in the world at nearly 6 feet in height. They are also the fastest marine mammal, sometimes reaching more than 34 miles per hour, and they hunt and live in packs similar to wolves – where there is one orca, there are often many, so beware!

Orcas are apex predators and have more than 50 extremely powerful and strong teeth that are capable of ripping apart their prey. They typically feed on seals, penguins, other seabirds, and have even been known to kill and eat great white sharks – another animal considered by many to be an apex predator. As such, orcas are considered extremely dangerous and should be treated with caution.

Similar to your typical dolphin, orcas also enjoy surfacing, poking their noses out of the water, and even launching themselves fairly far into the air (though not in the same way that a surfing dolphin will do it). They are extremely aggressive, but also quite playful.

Is the biggest dolphin really a dolphin?

The interesting thing about orcas is that they can be considered both dolphins and whales. To be specific, the orca is a "toothed whale," as is the dolphin (it's just that your standard dolphin is much smaller and not as aggressive or dangerous). It can therefore be said that all dolphins are whales, but not all whales are dolphins.

This is a classification that the orca also shares with narwhals, belugas, sperm whales, beaked whales, porpoises, and, of course, dolphins. While many of these other toothed whales are found in more specific locations and habitats, the killer whale is an incredibly versatile animal that can be found in Antarctica, the Arctic, and even in tropical areas!

Let's finish with the most adorable fact of them all: Orcas have highly stable family groups that are referred to as "pods" and usually comprise of a mother, father, and children. They are extremely protective and look after their young from birth to adulthood.

Orcas, known to many as killer whales, are the biggest dolphin species in the world.
Orcas, known to many as killer whales, are the biggest dolphin species in the world.  © Unsplash/Nitesh Jain

The largest dolphin species is extremely dangerous

While regular dolphins are not likely to attack you (though, if they accidentally hit you, they can cause serious harm), the orca is known as the killer whale for a reason. These beautiful and huge creatures are vicious and extremely effective hunters known for not only going after whales and other sea creatures, but also humans like swimmers, surfers, and people in small boats.

If you see an orca in the wild, it's time to get out of the water as quickly as humanly possible! While you might want to stop and stare at its gorgeous and elegant looks, it's better to miss out than to end up as dinner.

Cover photo: Unsplash/Ádám Berkecz

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