When we think of sharks, we think of fearsome predators who stalk their prey and rip flesh from bone. But when we think of whales, we conjure up an image of gentle giants who leap through the ocean and play around with their pack mates. Some of this interpretation is down to each animal's appearance, while a large majority comes from media influence.
We may think that Jaws is the most feared animal in the sea while Free Willy is a playful whale who loves nothing more than frolicking in the waves, but this may only be partially true. Discover who really would win a fight between these two ocean giants - the answer may surprise you.
Shark vs. Whale
|Great White Shark||Orca / Killer Whale|
|Max. Length||20 feet||32 feet|
|Max. Weight||5,000 lbs||22,000 lbs|
|Speed||Short bursts of up to 40 km per hour||Reaches speeds of up to 56 km per hour|
|Bite Force||4,000 psi||19,000 psi|
|Teeth||43-54 teeth Up to 6 inches long||40-56 teeth Up to 3 inches long|
|Hunting Behaviours||Hunts alone||Hunt in groups|
Sensitive to vibrations
Able to detect electrical fields
|No sense of smell |
Use echolocation for hunting
Great White Shark vs. Killer Whale: Size and Speed
Sharks are one of the largest fish on the planet, with males that can grow up to 20 feet long with a mass of 5,000 lbs. Still, the killer whale is easily bigger than its marine counterpart; females can grow up to 19 feet with a weight of 12,000 lbs. And males can reach an impressive 32 feet in length and weigh over 20,000 lbs.
Both swim at impressive speeds but the killer whale ranks among the fastest marine mammals. While the shark can reach a maximum speed of 40 kph in short bursts, the orca can exceed 55 kph. The killer whale is also limited on how long it can maintain full speed, but it would easily outswim a shark.
Advantage: Killer Whale
Great White Shark vs. Killer Whale: Teeth and Bite Power
Both predatory marine creatures possess a mouthful of impressively sharp teeth, which are ideal for ripping flesh from their prey. Both have a similar number of "active" teeth, but the shark's triangular gnashers may grow to twice the length of the killer whale. In addition, sharks grow new sets of teeth during their life, allowing them to possess a total of up to 300.
When it comes to bite power, though, the killer whale reigns supreme. In general, neither uses their full biting force to capture their prey, but scientific analysis of the anatomy of these marine creatures' heads allows us to calculate an educated estimate. A 2008 study concluded that sharks might have an impressive bite force of 4,000 psi, but the orca could have a bite force of up to 19,000 psi!
Advantage: Draw (the shark possesses far more fearsome teeth, but its bite is no match for the power of the killer whale)
Great White Shark vs. Killer Whale: Senses
Regarding sensory skills, the great white may outperform the orca. Orcas possess an impressive set of senses, the best of which is their incredible sense of hearing, allowing them to hunt prey via a technique called echolocation. Still, their eyesight is limited, and they lack a sense of smell.
In contrast, sharks can detect blood in a ratio of 1 part blood per 10 billion parts water. And this isn't the only impressive sense of the great white; an "ear stone" lets them orientate themselves in the water by responding to gravity, while their ability to detect electrical fields aids them in navigating the open ocean.
Advantage: Great White Shark
Great White Shark vs. Killer Whale: Hunting Behaviours
The hunting tactics of the killer whale are some of the most impressive in the world. While sharks are lone predators who occasionally group together to secure a kill, orcas are pack hunters with advanced communication and coordination skills that give them a distinct advantage over the shark.
Advantage: Killer Whale
Who Would Win in a Fight Between a Great White Shark and a Killer Whale?
Many of us think of the great white shark as the ocean's greatest predator; they are indeed fearsome creatures that can grow up to 20 feet in length and 6,600 pounds in weight. In addition, more than 50 bladelike teeth can extend to 6.6 inches, providing enough of a deterrent for most animals. Still, this apex predator is no match for the killer whale.
But a healthy killer whale - also known as an orca - will always win a fight with a great white shark thanks to its size, bravery, and intelligence.
Do Great White Sharks Ever Encounter Killer Whales?
Sharks do encounter whales in the wild ocean, allowing scientists to observe the behaviors of these two species. In 2009, scientists and marine ecologists tagged 17 great white sharks for monitoring them hunting elephant seals. Their findings showed that the presence of killer whales causes sharks to disperse, with some failing to return until several months later.
In a statement, the lead author of the study said, "When confronted by orcas, white sharks will immediately vacate their preferred hunting ground and will not return for up to a year, even though the orcas are only passing through."
And drone footage confirms that killer whales can and will hunt great white sharks. Still, despite their name "killer whale," the orca is the largest member of the dolphin family.
Who Would Win in a Fight Between a Great White Shark and a Blue Whale?
Blue whales don't prey on animals as big as the great white; instead, they consume large quantities of tiny prey called krill. Their large jaws can extend to 80 degrees while the baleen strains tiny organisms from the water. In this way, blue whales can maximize calorie intake while minimizing their energy expenditure.
Still, the blue whale is the largest living animal, dwarfing the great white shark with its gigantic length of 30 meters and a weight surpassing 100 tonnes. In addition, their streamlined bodies allow them to maintain speeds of 35 kilometers per hour, enabling them to outswim the shark. (The latter is more likely to pursue their prey in short bursts of travel - up to 40km per hour - rather than a sustained speed over a long distance.)
But the shark is a highly skilled apex predator who can hunt and capture large animals; their flexible jaws and sharp teeth are perfect for ripping the flesh from their prey. The shark is more likely to bite a chunk from the blue whale than vice versa, but the great white is unlikely to achieve a kill.
That doesn't mean they don't eat blue whales, though; media reports often show sharks circling whale carcasses, which many researchers believe could make up an integral part of their diet.