Orca vs Hagfish: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: January 23, 2023
© A-Z-Animals.com
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Many creatures roam the oceans, from whales larger than school buses to minuscule krill. It’s interesting to see the sheer variety of wildlife that can appear throughout the underwater portions of the world. Today, we’re going to take a look at two distinctly different creatures. We’ll compare the orca vs. hagfish and show you several ways they differ despite sharing an environment!

Comparing an Orca and a Hagfish

Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) breaching.
The orca is the largest member of the dolphin family, weighing up to 12,000 pounds and growing up to 26 feet in length.

©Tory Kallman/Shutterstock.com

SizeWeight: 6,600 to 12,000 lbs
Length: 16 to 26 feet
Weight: 1.8 to 3.1 lbs
Length: 1.5 to 32 inches
SpeciesOrcinus orca
– Member of the Delphinidae family, the dolphin family  
– Myxinidae family  
Morphology– Large, toothed whale
– Has a dolphin-like body with two paddle-like pectoral fins, a large dorsal fin, and large tail flukes
– They propel themselves in water by moving their flukes up and down in the water
– Blunt snout
– Eel-like body
– Have a skull but no vertebral column
– Possess eight barbels near the mouth
– Horizontally oriented, rudimentary mouth
– Has four hearts and one nostril
– Propels itself with a vertically oriented, paddle-shaped tail
– Capable of creating large amounts of slime as a defense mechanism
Coloration– White and black
– Patches of color vary, but there’s typically a patch of white by the eyes, a mostly black body, and a white underside
– Blue-gray
– Pink
– May have black and white spots
Diet– Apex predators
– Eat many different types of fish, squid, sea birds, some other toothed whales, and more
– Uses hunting techniques with other to hunt other large animals, like seals
– Often beats other creatures with their tails
– Scavengers that consume dead or severely injured creatures, often larger than themselves
– May eat creatures from the inside
– Consume fish, cephalopods, shrimp, birds, and others

The Key Differences Between an Orca vs. Hagfish

The greatest differences between an orca and a hagfish can be found in their size and morphology. The hagfish resembles a small eel that measures between 1 and 32 inches and weighs up to 3.1 pounds, and the orca is the largest member of the dolphin family, weighing up to 12,000 pounds and growing up to 26 feet in length.

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The hagfish is known for being the only creature with a developed skull and no vertebral column, using a paddle-like tail to propel itself forward using a horizontal motion. However, the orca has a large head with a blunt snout, large teeth, two paddle-shaped pectoral fins, a large dorsal fin, and tail flukes that it motions up and down to move in the water.

These differences show the level of uniqueness between these creatures. Yet, we can delve even deeper into various aspects of these creatures and demonstrate other elements that set them apart.

Orca vs. Hagfish: Size

Hagfish, Duiker Point, Cape Peninsula.
Hagfish weigh between 1.8 and 3.1 pounds, measuring from 1.6 inches to 32 inches on average.

©Peter Southwood / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

Orcas are larger than hagfish by a great amount. The average orca weighs between 6,000 and 12,000 pounds and measures between 16 and 26 feet in length. Meanwhile, the relatively diminutive hagfish weigh between 1.8 and 3.1 pounds while measuring from 1.6 inches to 32 inches on average.

Clearly, the size of these creatures is one of their biggest differences.

Orca vs. Hagfish: Species

The orca and hagfish are not closely related to each other despite living in the ocean. The hagfish is a member of the Myxinidae family, and several species of hagfish exist. Meanwhile, the orca is a member of the Delphinidae family, the group containing dolphins. Specifically, the orca belongs to the species Orcinus orca.

Orca vs. Hagfish: Morphology

The orca is the largest member of the dolphin family and has a body similar to other dolphins despite being far larger. However, the hagfish has an eel-like body.

The orca is a large, toothed whale with two paddle-shaped pectoral fins, a large dorsal fin, and large tail flukes that propel the orca forward. The creature has many sharp, long, and slightly forward-facing teeth and a blunt snout.

Meanwhile, the hagfish has a body that is similar to an eel. Yet, while they have a skull, they don’t have a vertebral column, even though they do have some vertebrae. These creatures do not have jaws but a horizontally oriented mouth for eating, along with eight barbels on their heads.

The hagfish has unique biology in that it has four hearts, one nostril, and a paddle-shaped tail that the creature moves from side to side to propel itself through the water. Hagfish are also known for the tremendous amount of slime they produce as a defense mechanism. This thick, mucousy slime discourages creatures from eating them.

All told, these animals are very different from each other in terms of their morphology. Differentiating them is a simple matter.

Orca vs. Hagfish: Coloration

orca whale
Orcas are known for their black-and-white coloration.


The orca and hagfish are very different colors. Hagfish are blue-gray or pink, and they can vary in color a little. Also, they may have white or black spots on them. Orcas are known for their black-and-white coloration. The majority of the dorsal side of the creature is black, but they may have white spots near the eyes. The underside of the creature is largely white, and so is the underside of the tail.

Orca vs. Hagfish: Diet

The orca and the hagfish have different methods of seeking food as well as different preferred meals. For example, the orca is an apex predator that frequently hunts with other members of its species.

They use their tails to beat prey that they have surrounded or to corral it and kill it. Also, they can use sophisticated techniques like flooding ice to wash seals into the water to be killed and eaten. They consume many kinds of animals like fish, sea birds, whales, squid, and more.

Hagfish are both active hunters and scavengers that eat dead or injured sea creatures. When they scavenge other animals, they may eat them from the inside out! They’ll eat birds, fish, cephalopods, shrimp, and many other animals.

All in all, the orca and hagfish are incredibly different from one another. Everything from their size and shape to their diets is different. Those differences demonstrate the amazing diversity of animals in the oceans today.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as managed service providers, animals, and retail distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 . When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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