Which is smarter: a blue whale or an orca?

There's no doubt they're both intelligent, but which animal comes out on top?

by Kerstin Bilgmann
Which is smarter: blue whales or orcas? — Prasaad, age 6

There’s no simple answer. We don’t know for sure which one is smarter, because not everyone agrees on what “intelligence” means.

It’s true that blue whales and orcas (also called killer whales) are both smart. They both have very large brains. Orcas have particularly large brains compared to their overall body size.

But it’s not just about brain size. When it comes to measuring intelligence, we might also consider things like:

  • the number of nerve cells in the brain
  • ability to navigate the deep, wide oceans
  • solving difficult problems
  • communicating
  • working in teams

Let’s look at which animal is good at which skill.

What can a blue whale do?

There’s no doubt a blue whale is a very intelligent animal.

Blue whales eat krill, which are very tiny prawn-shaped animals that gather in huge swarms that are often far away from where blue whales give birth to their children. Despite the distance, blue whales are masters of finding krill. They are very good at navigating along coasts and across the deep, wide oceans.

In fact, blue whales are so smart they can work out if a swarm of krill is worth chasing. Blue whales are very good at finding krill that are fat and in big swarms so they do not waste their energy catching smaller swarms. Blue whales catch krill by rolling on their side and opening their mouths. It is a lot of work, and they have to use a lot of energy to do it.

Blue whales also have excellent systems for communicating with each other.

What can an orca do?

Orcas form groups and hunt together.


Orcas are a kind of large dolphin and they have different strengths.

They are very good at working together. They form groups and hunt together for fish or other sea mammals — including whales. This is why they are called “killer whales.”

They are also expert communicators and have their own language — even certain noises that are used by a particular group of orcas to show they are in the group.

They both are very intelligent in their own way

Some scientists have wondered if you could measure intelligence by looking at how well animals teach their children how to behave — for example, how to find food, fight, or stay safe.

Orcas are masters at teaching their children exactly what to do. This involves things like hunting in groups or sneaking up on a seal and grabbing it before sliding back into the water.

However, blue whales are also good at teaching their offspring skills such as long-distance navigation — in other words, finding their way around the vast oceans.

Both blue whales and killer whales have their own special behaviors and skills. We really can’t say which one is more intelligent because both are very intelligent in their own way.

This article was originally published on The Conversation by Kerstin Bilgmann. Read the original article here.

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