Orca or Killer Whale? What's in a Name

Orca names and classification tend to show up in comments frequently on social media and mentioned during whale watch tours. One thing I see often is “Orcas actually aren’t whales, they’re dolphins!”

Fact of the matter is, they are BOTH!  Orcas are the largest member of the family delphinidae (oceanic dolphins), which is under the infraorder odontoceti, therefore all dolphins are toothed whales.

Orcas are both dolphins and whales

All dolphins are whales, but not all whales are dolphins!


And for the name part... some people don’t like the name “killer” whale. The name comes from fishermen that first witnessed them preying on whales, and called them “whale killers.” After all, these animals are predators... and well, everybody’s got to eat! Their scientific name, “Orcinus Orca” has meanings tied to the underworld. Evidently, “Orca” literally translates to “demon from hell” in Greek.

So you could say it comes down to do we call them “killer whale” or “demon from hell?” 

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