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Dolphins - meet the different species

Dolphins and porpoises belong to the suborder known as "Odonotoceti" - which literally means "toothed whale" although the number and size of teeth can vary greatly between species. A substantial number of "whales" also belong to this sub-order as they possess teeth as opposed to baleen.


Common characteristics of a toothed whale include: a single blowhole, an asymmetrical skull, three sternum bones and a fatty organ in the forehead called the ‘melon’ – used like a lens to focus sound-waves when using echolocation to target individual prey items. Apart from dolphins and porpoises, the suborder odontoceti contains several other members including the sperm whales, beluga whale or any member of the beaked whales - however as they're more commonly known by the term "whale". Find out the difference between whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Family Delphinidae

With 36 species, this dolphin family contains the most diverse members of the cetacean world. The delphinids are known as the ‘marine dolphins’ (although of course there are some exceptions to the rule, with the freshwater populations of Orcaella bucking the trend), have a noticeable beak (with Orcaella again the exception), a large falcate, dorsal fin mid-way along their back (but not Lissodelphis) and conical teeth. Large group sizes and a complex social structure is a theme within the delphinids.

Cephalorhynchus commersonii (Commerson's dolphin)

Cephalorhynchus eutropia (Chilean dolphin)

Cephalorhynchus heavisidii (Heaviside's dolphin)

Cephalorhynchus hectori (New Zealand Dolphin (Hector's and Maui's dolphin))

Delphinus capensis (Long-beaked common dolphin)

Delphinus delphis (Short-beaked common dolphin)

Feresa attenuata (Pygmy killer whale)

Globicephala macrorhynchus (Short finned pilot whale)

Globicephala melas (Long finned pilot whale)

Grampus griseus (Risso's dolphin)

Lagenodelphis hosei (Fraser's dolphin)

Lagenorhynchus acutus (Atlantic white-sided dolphin)

Lagenorhynchus albirostris (White-beaked dolphin)

Lagenorhynchus australis (Peale's dolphin)

Lagenorhynchus cruciger (Hourglass dolphin)

Lagenorhynchus obliquidens (Pacific white-sided dolphin)

Lagenorhynchus obscurus (Dusky dolphin)

Lissodelphis borealis (Northern right-whale dolphin)

Lissodelphis peronii (Southern right-whale dolphin)

Orcaella brevirostris (Irrawaddy dolphin)

Orcaella heinsohni (Australian snubfin dolphin)

Orcinus orca (Orca (Killer Whale))

Peponocephala electra (Melon-headed whale)

Pseudorca crassidens (False killer whale)

Sotalia fluviatilis (Tucuxi)

Sotalia guianensis (Guiana dolphin)

Sousa chinensis (Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin)

Sousa teuszii (Atlantic humpback dolphin)

Stenella attenuata (Pantropical spotted dolphin)

Stenella clymene (Clymene dolphin)

Stenella coeruleoalba (Striped dolphin)

Stenella frontalis (Atlantic Spotted dolphin)

Stenella longirostris (Spinner dolphin)

Steno bredanensis (Rough-toothed dolphin)

Tursiops aduncus (Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin)

Tursiops truncatus (Bottlenose dolphin)

Family Phocoenidae

This is the porpoise family, containing seven species, each of which is relatively small and stocky. Each species has flattened spade-shaped teeth, either a short beak or no beak at all and in all except the 2 species of finless porpoise, a small triangular dorsal fin. The females of some species can also be larger than the males.

Neophocaena phocaenoides (Indo-Pacific finless porpoise)

Neophocaena asiaeorientalis (Narrow-ridged finless porpoise)

Phocoena dioptrica (Spectacled porpoise)

Phocoena phocoena (Harbour porpoise)

Phocoena sinus (Vaquita)

Phocoena spinipinnis (Burmeister's porpoise)

Phocoenoides dalli (Dall's porpoise)

The 4 Families of River Dolphins

The four species of river dolphins are divided into four separate families: -

(1) Family Platanistidae includes the Ganges and Indus River dolphin;

Platanista gangetica (South Asian river dolphin)

(2) Family Pontoporiidae contains the franciscana;

Pontoporia blainvillei (Franciscana)

(3) Family Iniidae is represented by the Amazon River dolphin (or boto);

Inia geoffrensis (Boto)

and (4) The possibly extinct Family Lipotidae consists of the possibly extinct Yangtze River dolphin; 

Lipotes vexillifer (Baiji)