By now you know that there are over 470 species of sharks in the world, not counting those that we might have not even discovered yet. When it comes to whales, though there are not as many species, they still boast a plentiful variety that range from aggressive to rather timid. In recent years, some people have wondered what would happen if the toughest shark in the world (the Great White) went snout-to-snout with the toughest whale in the world (the Killer whale a.k.a Orca). Due to the nasty nature of such a battle, we prefer not to get into detail about who might get the trophy in that oceanic tournament.

A Few Things In Common

This got us thinking about the differences between sharks and whales and how some people might assume that they come from the same aquatic family just by their looks and attributes. Plus, with the largest shark species being called a whale shark, the confusion can be greater. Both Blue Whales and Whale Sharks are the largest in their species and they are both great swimmers, ocean dwellers, fish and crustacean eaters, fear-evokers, and simply awe-inspiring. They both vie for the title of King of the Ocean.

Other traits that they share include filter-feeding frenzies; whales mostly eat krill, while Whale Sharks eat krill and other plankton as well as fish eggs and small fishes. They both live for quite a long time; sharks can live to be 50 and even 100 years old, while whales can live 60 to one-hundred years. Both sharks and whales have learned to adapt and live in various environments such as warm or cold water and salt or fresh water. Sadly, both species have members on the endangered list. They are both coveted for many things; whales for their rich blubber, sharks for their meat and fins.

Let Us Defer To The Differences

The differences between the two are deeper than the ocean in which they swim. Here is a basic breakdown.

  • The Proper Classification. Sharks are fish. They are classified as vertebrates which are distinguished by having a rigid backbone. Whales are mammals. Mammals are a completely different class of vertebrates.
  • What’s Covering Their Body? A shark’s body is covered in scales. A whale’s body is covered in sift skin without a scale to be found.
  • Distinct Movement of the Tail. Tails are distinct in both of these creatures, but the way they move is a complete opposite. When a shark swims, it moves its tail from side-to-side. When a whale swims, it moves its tail up-and-down.
  • How About Them Skeleton Bones? A shark’s skeleton is made of cartilage, which is flexible and light (kind of like our nose and ear structures). A whale’s skeleton is made from bone material which makes them rather heavy for their size.
  • Breathing It All In. Like most fish in the sea, sharks can consume oxygen from water, which is filtered in through their gills. You’ll find them in the shark’s head. Just like humans, whales breathe through lungs. This means that they need to come up for oxygen from time to time, which is taken in through a hole in the top of their head.
  • Ecto or Endo? Sharks are “ectothermic,” which means that they are cold-blooded creatures. When in cold water, they become cold. When in warm water, they stay nice and toasty. Whales are “endothermic,” which means that they are warm-blooded. They can manage their own body temperature, which makes them free to go from one extreme to the next without much trouble.
  • Where Do Babies Come From? Neither one of these majestic creatures relies on a stork. Shark babies come from eggs, though not always in classic form. Some shark species lay their eggs, while some hatch inside the bodies and are then expelled. Either way, parental care is limited. Whale babies are lucky because whale moms give them much attention and are very involved. They are birthed like human babies and even get to drink their mother’s milk.
  • See No Evil, Hear No Evil. The senses differ greatly between these two ocean dwellers. Whales have created ears, which enable them an impeccable sense of hearing. Sharks by contrast have a fine-tuned sense of smell and vision. Plus, they have electroreception, which is the ability to sense and locate objects around them.
  • The Long And Winding Road. The history of both of these creatures is long and deep (no pun intended). Believe it or not, the shark wins the debate of who has been treading the waters for the longest time. The oldest fossil dates back about 400 million years! Whales are no youngsters themselves, though. They’ve been on the scene for about 180 – 200 million years now.

That’s a lot of differences for a couple of swimmers who look a lot alike and are so very interesting to us land-lubbers.

One Last Whale Of A Tale (Whale Shark, That Is)

One more thing about the Whale Shark that you should know is that they are very gentle creatures. Despite their overwhelming size, these beauties are the best to snorkel and dive with as they will swim right alongside you. This makes them very vulnerable to those who would seek to take advantage of their good graces, so whale sharks are on the threatened species list. However, as they are such a good tourist attraction and a friendly fish, most people are starting to see them as more valuable alive.