Gray Whale vs Orca: Key Differences (And Who Would Win in a Fight!)

killer whales swimming side by side

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Published: June 7, 2022

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Orcas or killer whales are notoriously aggressive predators. Amongst their prey are dolphins, squids, and even large animals like the gray whale. But you might wonder how an orca can defeat a large animal like the gray whale. If there was a fight between a gray whale and an orca, who will win the fight? Let’s explore all the key factors that can help provide an accurate answer in this post. 

Comparing a Gray Whale and an Orca

A gray whale differs from an orca in size and speed.
Gray WhaleOrca
Size-Weight: 90,000 lb
-Length: 49 ft
-Weight: 19,000 lb
-Length: 23 ft
Speed Movement–  Can reach speeds of 11mph when in danger-Top speed of 30mph
Senses-Rely on their strong auditory and visual sensesRely on their strong auditory and visual senses and echolocation
Defenses-Traveling in pods
-Uses flippers to defend
-Relies on pod
-Uses teeth to defend
-Can camouflage in water
-Uses flukes to defend
Offensive capabilities-Don’t typically attack first
-May use flickers to attack
-Has 40-50 teeth to attack offensively
-May use flukes to attack
Predatory behavior-Are bottom feeders
-Predators mainly to crustaceans like amphipods and ghost shrimps. 
-Are apex predators 
-Predators to dolphins, great white sharks, squids.

Key Differences Between a Gray Whale and an Orca

The key differences between a gray whale and an orca include their size, speed and movement, and bite power. Gray whales are generally bigger than orcas. However, they don’t have strong teeth like orcas do. Besides, they are not as fast as the killer whale.

Let’s explore their differences in detail.

Gray Whale Vs. Orca: Size 

Killer Whale - Orcinus Orca

The killer whale (orca) weighs about 90,000 pounds, about four times larger than the largest recorded gray whale.

When it comes to size, gray whales are generally bigger and longer than orcas. An average gray whale weighs about 90,000 lb and measures up to 49 feet in length. On the other hand, an average orca measures around 15,000 to 19,000 lb and measures up to 23 feet in length. However, the largest orca ever recorded weighed about 22,000 lb and measured up to 32 feet in length. Although it’s the biggest of its species, it’s still smaller than the average gray whale.

Gray Whale Vs. Orca: Speed And Movement

what do whales eat - gray whale baleen

Gray whales are slower than orcas.

Orcas are generally faster than gray whales. So, they have the advantage when it comes to speed and movement. Gray whales are relatively slow divers and move at top speeds of 11mph when in danger. However, an orca is still much faster than a gray whale and will easily overtake one in a chase. Orcas move at a speed of 30mph when chasing prey. However, in their natural state, they move at a slower speed of about 8mph.  

Gray Whale Vs. Orca: Bite Power And Teeth

A killer whale has a bite force of 19,000 PSI.

Orca teeth are more suited for attacking and injuring other animals. Orcas are, in fact, known to have one of the highest bite force of 19,000 PSI among sea animals. Their teeth length and bite power can conveniently tear apart the flesh of even big sea animals. On the other hand, gray whales don’t have teeth for attacking like orcas do. They have coarse teeth-like structures called baleens that are used primarily to filter food from the seafloor. 

Gray Whale Vs. Orca: Senses

Among gray whales’ senses, their hearing senses are the most powerful. Interestingly, both mammals have no sense of smell. Gray whales rely on their ears and eyes to hunt for food and watch out for predators. They have tiny eyes above their mouth that are really helpful for surveying their environment above the water surface. Because of the position of their eyes, they cannot see what’s directly ahead of them and will have to turn around for a good view. As strong as their auditory senses are, they have no external ears; instead, their jawbones help them collect sounds even from a long distance. 

For orcas, apart from having great eyesight and auditory sense, they can camouflage in water. Besides, where their sight doesn’t help them, they can detect prey through echolocation senses. So, they can sense prey from echos (a feature only peculiar to a few animals, including those in the dolphin family). 

Gray Whale Vs. Orca: Defenses

Gray whales protect themselves by traveling in groups known as pods. That way, they have the advantage of defending themselves from a predator. They don’t have teeth for attacking, so they mostly use their fins or flippers to defend and attack in a fight. Orcas, on the other hand, are apex predators and are rarely hunted. But when faced with the threat from predators like humans, they rely on their teeth to defend themselves. Besides, they rely on their flukes to fight predators. With echolocation, they can summon their pods when faced with danger.  

Gray Whale Vs. Orca: Offensive Capabilities

While gray whales don’t typically attack first, they can get really aggressive after being attacked. They rely on their flickers to fight back when being attacked. Orcas are notorious for attacking first. They have about 40 to 56 teeth that are up to 3 inches long. These can be used to attack other animals.

Gray Whale Vs. Orca: Predator Behavior

Gray whales are bottom feeders and are predators mainly of crustaceans like amphipods and ghost shrimps. Orcas, in contrast, are apex predators and remain one of the gray whale’s biggest hunters. Many gray whales have scars from orcas’ teeth bites. 

Who Would Win a Fight Between a Gray Whale and an Orca?

In a one-on-one fight between an orca and a gray whale, the orca will win the fight. This is because an orca has greater offensive and defensive prowess than a gray whale. It has the advantage of using its teeth to attack and speed to chase. Besides, with echolocation,  it’s easy to detect the movement of its contender even in dark waters. However, if it was a pod of gray whales facing an orca, the former would win the fight. It shouldn’t be surprising because gray whales have strength in numbers. So, they can use the advantage of their size and number to chase off an aggressive killer whale that attacks them. 

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