The fact that dolphins are whales seems to cause a lot of confusion among people.
The short answer is: Yes, dolphins are a type of whale. If this answer doesn’t satisfy you, continue reading.
Whales, or cetaceans, as the scientists call them, are a group of mammals which are distributed throughout the world’s oceans and even in some freshwater areas. Whales can be divided into two groups, these are called baleen whales (Mysticeti) and toothed whales (Odontoceti). Most whales belong to the group of toothed whales such as all dolphins and porpoises. The main differences between those two groups are, as their names indicate, that toothed whales have teeth whereas baleen whales have baleen plates in their mouth.
Scientists have been trying to classify animals according to their characteristics and appearances and this is how they ended up creating these categories. Modern science and genetic analysis has been changing some of these established beliefs and categories lately, but let’s keep it simple.
Among the group of toothed whales we can distinguish between smaller groups, biologists call these groups ‘families’. The members of each of these groups share similarities, this is why they are grouped together.
There are two families among toothed whales which we refer to when talking about dolphins, one are the Oceanic Dolphins family ‘Delphinidae’ and the other one are the River Dolphins. Altogether there are over 40 species of dolphins! All members of the family of oceanic dolphins (Delphinidae) share distinctive features such, as for example: conical shaped teeth and a beak like extension of their jaws – so these are some characteristics which make a whale a dolphin!
And, by the way, the largest member of the dolphin family is the Orca sometimes also referred to as killer whale which we have spotted occasionally on our whale watching tours in the Faxfloi Bay!
Photo by Federico Facchin
Dr. Annemarie Kramer (Guide)