Orca vs Great White Shark: Who’s the Apex Predator

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The world’s oceans are full of fascinating creatures, including quite a few large and rather intimidating marine animals! If you love nature and the ocean as much as we do at Harbor Breeze Cruises, we hope you’ll be excited to gain some insight into two predators found in the oceans: the orca and the great white shark.


Meet These Impressive Apex Predators

         Great white sharks and orcas are known as apex predators, which means that they reside at the top of the food chain. They play a crucial role in regulating the populations of other species and maintaining the balance of the world’s delicate marine ecosystems.

Because great white sharks and orcas are two of the most iconic marine mammals in the world, it’s no surprise that a debate exists over which animal is the most formidable.

Orca vs great white shark . . . which one is bigger? Which one is faster? Which one is the most relentlessly fierce and deserves to be known as the ultimate marine predator? Let’s see if this debate can be settled once and for all!


Orca vs Great White Size

         On average, orcas—also known as killer whales—are twice as long and three times as heavy as great white sharks, making their difference in size and weight quite significant. The orca’s larger body mass and muscular build contribute to their ability to take down larger prey with relative ease. So, when it comes to orca vs great white size, the orca is the clear winner in this category.


Great White vs Orca Speed

         Great white sharks are incredibly fast swimmers; they can reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour in short bursts. It’s worth noting, however, that orcas are faster when swimming long distances. Orcas can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour and, most importantly, they can maintain this consistent speed. When it comes to great white vs orca in terms of speed, the answer essentially depends on the distance they’re swimming.


Orca vs Great White Teeth and Bite Force

The orca’s bite force is estimated to be around 19,000 pounds per square inch (psi), while the great white shark’s bite is closer to 4,000 psi. An orca’s teeth are designed for tearing or shredding, but not for chewing; they consume their food in chunks or swallow their prey whole. In contrast, great white sharks have sharp and serrated teeth, making it possible for them to immobilize their prey and slice through flesh. According to Animals Around the Globe, “Great white sharks . . . have 300 sharp triangular teeth in several rows in their mouths. They also have an extraordinary sense of smell which helps them detect their prey from far away.” Though bite force and the shape of their teeth must be considered when comparing these apex predators, another comparison that needs to be made involves how they hunt.


Great White vs Orca Hunting Techniques

Orcas and great white sharks take different approaches to hunting. Great white sharks prefer to hunt alone; they use their speed and agility to ambush their predators at lightning speed. Orcas, on the other hand, hunt in pods of up to 40 whales so they can have an even better chance of taking down their prey, which often includes large mammals such as seals and sea lions. Regarded as social and cooperative hunters, orcas seem to understand the importance of underwater teamwork, utilizing their strength and size to ensure that they have the big, filling meals they need to survive and thrive.


Orca vs Great White Shark: Who’s the Apex Predator?

         Are you tempted to say that the orca is the apex predator, considering its size, weight, speed, bite force, and hunting strategies? Or are you inclined to believe that even though the shark is smaller, its speed, rows of sharp teeth, and agility make it the apex predator?

If you were to cast your vote on which is the ocean’s apex predator based on appearance alone, the great white shark would surely be the winner. Their frightening appearance has even inspired Hollywood movies like Jaws and Deep Blue Sea.

Many scientists and researchers, however, seem to agree that the orca is the more ferocious predator, hunting and catching whatever type of prey becomes available to them. Orcas seem to have no fear and, of course, working together boosts their overall success rate.

         All comparisons considered, it also comes down to which one could kill the other. While there is no evidence to suggest that orcas regularly prey on great white sharks, American Oceans writes, “Orcas are also the only known predators of great white sharks. Scientists have been studying this behavior for several years and have even captured video footage of orcas killing and eating great white sharks off the coast of South Africa. The orcas use their powerful jaws and teeth to inflict fatal wounds on the sharks, and then consume their liver, which is a nutrient-rich organ.” A-Z Animals also notes, “According to a 2019 report, orcas that relocate to an area to hunt seals will drive away any great white sharks that previously resided in the area. In addition, these sharks tend to keep clear of the area for at least an entire season. This reluctance to return indicates that the sharks possess some level of fear of the orcas and do not wish to chance an encounter by returning too soon.”

Interestingly, Science Focus declares orcas as the apex predator upon taking another important factor into consideration: their intelligence. Their article simply states, “Not only are orcas much bigger, they are also smarter.”


Join Us on an Unforgettable Cruise  

Orcas and great white sharks—along with other marine life—remind us of the importance of respecting, protecting, and appreciating these magnificent animals and the oceans in which they live.

Harbor Breeze Cruises is proud to offer year-round whale-watching tours that are affordable and family-friendly. During your cruise, you can plan to sit back and relax while you wait to spot whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. You’ll feel right at home on the water on our eco-friendly, comfortable, and state-of-the-art catamarans operated by friendly and knowledgeable crew members, including educators representing the Aquarium of the Pacific.

For more information or to book a tour with Harbor Breeze Cruises, call 562-432-4900 or purchase your tickets online. We’d be thrilled to welcome you aboard one of our whale-watching cruises. While seeing a killer whale is not guaranteed, it’s certainly a possibility! Our crew and passengers have spotted blue whales, gray whales, humpback whales, and other whale species, and we can confidently say that no matter what type of whale species you may spot during a cruise with Harbor Breeze, you’ll be humbled by and grateful for the experience.


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