Definitions

family balaenopteridae

List of cetaceans

This is a list of cetaceans. The order Cetacea includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises. It has just over eighty living species, divided into the suborders Odontoceti (the toothed whales, including dolphins and porpoises) and Mysticeti (the baleen whales). In addition, numerous species of extinct cetaceans exist, but they are not listed here. This list contains only the known, extant cetacean species including several recent discoveries (the Baiji is also included though it is believed to have gone extinct in 2006).

Cetaceans are aquatic mammals characterised by having a fusiform (streamlined) body shape, paddle-shaped front limbs and vestigial hind limbs. The tail has been flattened into a fluke to aid propulsion.

Suborder Mysticeti: baleen whales

The baleen whales, also called whalebone whales or great whales, form the Mysticeti, one of two suborders of the Cetacea (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Baleen whales are characterized by having baleen plates for filtering food from water, rather than having teeth, like with the Odontocetes. This distinguishes them from the other suborder of cetaceans, the toothed whales or Odontoceti. Living Mysticeti species have teeth only during the embryonal phase. Fossil Mysticeti had teeth before baleen evolved.

Family Balaenidae: Right Whales

Balaenidae is a family of cetaceans that contains two genera. Commonly called the Right Whales as it contains mainly Right Whale species. This name can be confusing, however, since one of the species is the Bowhead Whale, which is different to the Right Whale. All the Balaenidae whales have the following features: a smooth belly and chin, with no ventral grooves; a distinctive head shape with strongly arched, narrow rostrum (anatomy) and bowed lower jaw; lower lips that enfold the sides and front of the rostrum; long, narrow, elastic baleen plates (up to 9 times longer longer than wide) with fine baleen fringes; the fusion of all the cervical vertebrae and other skeletal characteristics; a slow swimming speed.
Genus Balaena Linnaeus, 1758 - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Bowhead Whale Balaena mysticetus
Linnaeus, 1758
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) 8,000-9,200
60 tonnes
Genus Eubalaena Gray, 1864 - 3 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
North Atlantic Right Whale Eubalaena glacialis
Müller, 1776
Endangered (EN) 300
40-80 tonnes
North Pacific Right Whale Eubalaena japonica
Lacépède, 1818
Endangered (EN) 200
60-80 tonnes
Southern Right Whale Eubalaena australis
Desmoulins, 1822
Least Concern (LR/lc) 7,000
40-80 tonnes

Family Balaenopteridae: Rorquals

Rorquals are the largest group of baleen whales, with nine species in two genera. They include the largest animal that has ever lived, the Blue Whale, which can reach 150 tonnes, two others that easily pass 50 tonnes, and even the smallest of the group, the Northern Minke Whale, reaches 9 tonnes.

Rorquals take their name from a Norwegian word meaning "furrow whale": all members of the family have a series of longitudinal folds of skin running from below the mouth back to the navel (except the Sei Whale, which has shorter grooves). These are understood to allow the mouth to expand immensely when feeding.

All rorquals have ventral grooves, and are the only cetaceans to have them. Additionally, they all have a dorsal fin, a broad, gently curving rostrum and short baleen plates.

Subfamily Balaenopterinae - 1 genus, 8 species
Genus Balaenoptera - 8 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus
Linnaeus, 1758
Endangered (EN) 64,000
45-75 tonnes
Sei Whale Balaenoptera borealis
Lesson, 1828
Endangered (EN) 57,000
20-25 tonnes
Bryde's Whale Balaenoptera brydei
Olsen, 1913
Unknown Unknown
16-18.5 tonnes
Pygmy Bryde's Whale Balaenoptera edeni
Anderson, 1879
Unknown Unknown 12 tonnes
Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus
Linnaeus, 1758
Endangered (EN) 5,000-12,000
100-120 tonnes
Northern Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata
Lacépède, 1804
Near Threatened (LR/nt) Unknown
9 tonnes
Southern Minke Whale Balaenoptera bonaerensis
Burmeister, 1867
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) Unknown
9 tonnes
No common name in usage Balaenoptera omurai
Wada et al., 2003
Unknown Unknown
Subfamily Megapterinae - 1 genus, 1 species
Genus Megaptera Gray, 1846 - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae
Borowski, 1781
Least Concern (LR/lc) 5,000-7,500
25-30 tonnes

Family Eschrichtiidae: Gray Whale

The Gray Whale has been placed in a family of its own as it is sufficiently different from the right whales and the rorquals. The Gray Whale is the only benthic feeding baleen whale, filtering small organisms from the mud of shallow seas. They also have a gestation period of over a year, which is unusual for baleen whales.

Genus Eschrichtius - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Gray Whale Eschrichtius robustus
Lilljeborg, 1861
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) 26,000
14-35 tonnes

Family Neobalaenidae: Pygmy Right Whale

The Pygmy Right Whale shares several characteristics with the Right Whales although what separates them from Right Whales is that they have a dorsal fin, and they have a very distinctive jaw configuration. Pygmy Right Whales also have a head no more than ¼ the size of their body, whereas the Right Whales have heads approximately ⅓ the size of their body.

Genus Caperea Gray, 1864 - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Pygmy Right Whale Caperea marginata
Gray, 1846
Least Concern (LR/lc) Unknown
3-3.5 tonnes

Suborder Odontoceti: toothed whales

The toothed whales (systematic name Odontoceti) form a suborder of the cetaceans. As the name suggests, the suborder is characterized by having teeth (rather than baleen). Toothed whales are active hunters, feeding on fish, squid, and in some cases other marine mammals.

Family Delphinidae: oceanic dolphins

Oceanic dolphins are the members of the Delphinidae family of cetaceans. These aquatic mammals are related to whales and porpoises. As the name implies, these dolphins tend to be found in the open seas, unlike the river dolphins, although a few species such as the Irrawaddy Dolphin are coastal or riverine. Six of the larger species in the Delphinidae, the Orca and its relatives, are commonly called whales, rather than dolphins. They are also sometimes collectively known as "blackfish".

The Delphinidae are characterised by having a distinct beak (unlike the Porpoises), two or more fused cervical vertebrae and 20 or more pairs of teeth in the upper jaw. None are more than 4 metres long.

Genus Cephalorhynchus Gray, 1846 - 4 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Commerson's Dolphin Cephalorhynchus commersonii
Lacépède, 1804
Data deficient 3,400
35-60 kilograms
Chilean Dolphin Cephalorhynchus eutropia
Gray, 1846
Data deficient Unknown
60 kilograms
Heaviside's Dolphin Cephalorhynchus heavisidii
Gray, 1828
Data deficient Unknown
40-75 kilograms
Hector's Dolphin Cephalorhynchus hectori
Van Beneden, 1881
Endangered (EN) 2,000-2,500
35-60 kilograms
Genus Steno - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Rough-toothed Dolphin Steno bredanensis
Lesson, 1828
Data deficient 150,000
100-135 kilograms
Genus Sousa - 3 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Atlantic Humpback Dolphin Sousa teuszi
Kükenthal, 1892
Data deficient Unknown
100-150 kilograms
Indian Humpback Dolphin Sousa plumbea
Cuvier, 1829
Data deficient Unknown
150-200 kilograms
Pacific Humpback Dolphin Sousa chinensis
Osbeck, 1765
Data deficient Unknown
250-280 kilograms
Genus Sotalia - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Tucuxi Sotalia fluviatilis
Gervais & Deville, 1853
Data deficient Unknown
35-45 kilograms
Genus Tursiops - 2 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus
Montagu, 1821
Data deficient Unknown
150-650 kilograms
Indian Ocean Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops aduncus
Ehrenberg, 1833
Data deficient Unknown
150-650 kilograms
Genus Stenella Gray, 1866 - 5 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin Stenella attenuata
Gray, 1846
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) 3,000,000
100 kilograms
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin Stenella frontalis
Cuvier, 1829
Data deficient 100,000
100 kilograms
Spinner Dolphin Stenella longirostris
Gray, 1828
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) Unknown
90 kilograms
Clymene Dolphin Stenella clymene
Gray, 1846
Data deficient Unknown
75-80 kilograms
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba
Meyen, 1833
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) 2,000,000
100 kilograms
Genus Delphinus - 3 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis
Linnaeus, 1758
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) Unknown
75-130 kilograms
Long-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus capensis
Gray, 1828
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) Unknown
70-110 kilograms
Arabian Common Dolphin Delphinus tropicalis
van Bree, 1971
Unknown Unknown
Genus Lagenodelphis - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Fraser's Dolphin Lagenodelphis hosei
Fraser, 1956
Data deficient Unknown
209 kilograms
Genus Lagenorhynchus Gray, 1846 - 6 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris
Gray, 1846
Least Concern (LR/lc) 100,000
180 kilograms
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus
Gray, 1828
Least Concern (LR/lc) 200,000 - 300,000
235 kilograms
Pacific White-sided Dolphin Lagenorhynchus obliquidens
Gill, 1865
Least Concern (LR/lc) 1,000,000
85-150 kilograms
Dusky Dolphin Lagenorhynchus obscurus
Gray, 1828
Data deficient Unknown
100 kilograms
Peale's Dolphin (also known as Black-chinned Dolphin) Lagenorhynchus australis
Peale, 1848
Data deficient Unknown
115 kilograms
Hourglass Dolphin Lagenorhynchus cruciger
Quoy & Gaimard, 1824
Least Concern (LR/lc) 140,000
90-120 kilograms
Genus Lissodelphis - 2 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Northern Right Whale Dolphin Lissodelphis borealis
Peale, 1848
Least Concern (LR/lc) 400,000
115 kilograms
Southern Right Whale Dolphin Lissodelphis peronii
Lacépède, 1804
Data deficient Unknown
60-100 kilograms
Genus Grampus - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus
G. Cuvier, 1812
Data deficient Unknown
300 kilograms
Genus Peponocephala - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Melon-headed Whale Peponocephala electra
Gray, 1846
Least Concern (LR/lc) Unknown
225 kilograms
Genus Feresa - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Pygmy Killer Whale Feresa attenuata
Gray, 1875
Data deficient Unknown
160-350 kilograms
Genus Pseudorca - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
False Killer Whale Pseudorca crassidens
Owen, 1846
Least Concern (LR/lc) Unknown
1.5-2 tonnes
Genus Orca - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Orca Orcinus orca
Linnaeus, 1758
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) 100,000
4.5 tonnes
Genus Globicephala - 2 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Short-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala macrorhynchus
Gray, 1846
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) Unknown
1-3 tonnes
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas
Traill, 1809
Least Concern (LR/lc) Unknown
3-3.5 tonnes
Genus Orcaella Gray, 1866 - 2 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Irrawaddy Dolphin Orcaella brevirostris
Gray, 1866
Data deficient Unknown
130 kilograms
Australian Snubfin Dolphin Orcaella heinsohni
Beasley, Robertson & Arnold, 2005
Unknown Unknown

Family Monodontidae: Narwhal and Beluga

The cetacean family Monodontidae comprises two unusual whale species, the Narwhal, in which the male has a long tusk, and the white Beluga.

The Monodontidae lack a dorsal fin which has been replaced by a tough fibrous ridge just behind the midpoint of the body and is probably an adaptation to swimming under ice, as both do in their Arctic habitat. The flippers are small, rounded and tend to curl up at the ends in adulthood. All, or almost all, the cervical vertebrae are unfused allowing the head to be turned independently of the body. None have any throat grooves.

Genus Monodon - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Narwhal Monodon monoceros
Linnaeus, 1758
Data deficient 25,000
900-1,500 kilograms
Genus Delphinapterus - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Beluga Delphinapterus leucas
Pallas, 1776
Vulnerable (VU) 100,000
1.5 tonnes

Family Phocoenidae: Porpoises

The porpoises are small cetaceans of the family Phocoenidae. They are distinct from dolphins, although the word "porpoise" has been used to refer to any small dolphin, especially by sailors and fishermen. The most obvious visible difference between the two groups is that porpoises have spatulate (flattened) teeth distinct from the conical teeth of dolphins. In addition, porpoises are relatively r-selected compared with dolphins: that is, they rear more young more quickly than dolphins. All six species have small flippers, notched tail flukes, and no beak. All carry at least 11 pairs of small teeth in the upper and lower jaws.

Porpoises, divided into six species, live in all oceans, mostly near the shore. Probably best known is the Harbour Porpoise, which can be found across the Northern Hemisphere.

Genus Neophocaena - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Finless Porpoise Neophocaena phocaenoides
Cuvier, 1829
Data deficient Unknown
30-45 kilograms
Genus Phocoena - 4 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena
Linnaeus, 1758
Vulnerable (VU) Unknown
75 kilograms
Vaquita Phocoena sinus
Norris & McFarland, 1958
Critically Endangered (CR) 500
50 kilograms
Spectacled Porpoise Phocoena dioptrica
Lahille, 1912
Data deficient Unknown
60-84 kilograms
Burmeister's Porpoise Phocoena spinipinnis
Burmeister, 1865
Data deficient Unknown
50-75 kilograms
Genus Phocoenoides - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Dall's Porpoise Phocoenoides dalli
True, 1885
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) 1,100,000
130-200 kilograms

Family Physeteridae: Sperm Whale

The Sperm Whale characteristically has a large, squarish head ⅓ the length of its body; the blowhole is slightly to the left hand side; skin usually wrinkled; and no teeth on the upper jaw.

Genus Physeter - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus
Linnaeus, 1758
Vulnerable (VU) 200,000-2,000,000
25-50 tonnes

Family Kogiidae: Dwarf and Pygmy Sperm Whales

The Dwarf and Pygmy Sperm Whales resemble Sperm Whales, but are far smaller. They are dark grey, dorsally, while ventrally they are lighter. They have blunt, squarish heads with a narrow underslung jaw; the flippers are set far forward, close to the head and the dorsal fin is set far back down the body.

Genus Kogia - 2 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Dwarf Sperm Whale Kogia sima
Owen, 1866
Least Concern (LR/lc) Unknown
250 kilograms
Pygmy Sperm Whale Kogia breviceps
Blainville, 1838
Least Concern (LR/lc) Unknown
400 kilograms

Family Ziphiidae: Beaked Whales

A beaked whale is any of at least 20 species of small whale in the family Ziphiidae. They are one of the least-known families of large mammals: several species have only been described in the last two decades, and it is entirely possible that more remain as yet undiscovered. Six genera have been identified.

They possess a unique feeding mechanism known as suction feeding. Instead of catching their prey with teeth, it is sucked into their oral cavity. Their tongue can move very freely, and when suddenly retracted at the same time as the gular floor is distended, the pressure immediately drops within their mouth and the prey is sucked in with the water. The family members are characterised by having a lower jaw that extends at least to the tip of the upper jaw, a shallow or non-existent notch between the tail flukes, a dorsal fin set well back on the body, three of four fused cervical vertebrae, extensive skull asymmetry and two conspicuous throat grooves forming a 'V' pattern.

Genus Ziphius - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris
G. Cuvier, 1823
Data deficient Unknown
2-3 tonnes
Genus Berardius - 2 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Arnoux's Beaked Whale Berardius arnuxii
Duvernoy, 1851
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) Unknown
8 tonnes
Baird's Beaked Whale Berardius bairdii
Stejneger, 1883
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) Unknown
12 tonnes
Genus Tasmacetus - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Shepherd's Beaked Whale Tasmacetus shepherdi
Oliver, 1937
Data deficient Unknown
2-2.5 tonnes
Subfamily Hyperoodontidae - 3 genera, 17 species
Genus Indopacetus - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Longman's Beaked Whale Indopacetus pacificus
Longman, 1926
Data deficent Unknown
Genus Hyperoodon - 2 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Northern Bottlenose Whale Hyperoodon ampullatus
Forster, 1770
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) 10,000
7 tonnes
Southern Bottlenose Whale Hyperoodon planifrons
Flower, 1882
Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) 500,000
6 tonnes
Genus Mesoplodon Gervais, 1850 - 14 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Hector's Beaked Whale Mesoplodon hectori
Gray, 1871
Data deficient Unknown
1 tonne
True's Beaked Whale Mesoplodon mirus
True, 1913
Data deficient Unknown
1.4 tonnes
Gervais' Beaked Whale Mesoplodon europaeus
Gervais, 1855
Data deficient Unknown
1.2 tonnes
Sowerby's Beaked Whale Mesoplodon bidens
Sowerby, 1804
Data deficient Unknown
1-1.3 tonnes
Gray's Beaked Whale Mesoplodon grayi
von Haast, 1876
Data deficient Unknown
1.5 tonnes
Pygmy Beaked Whale Mesoplodon peruvianus
Reyes, Mead, and Van Waerebeek, 1991
Data deficient Unknown
Andrews' Beaked Whale Mesoplodon bowdoini
Gervais, 1850
Data deficient Unknown
1 tonne
Bahamonde's Beaked Whale Mesoplodon bahamondi
Gray, 1874
Data deficient Unknown
Hubbs' Beaked Whale Mesoplodon carlhubbsi
Sowerby, 1963
Data deficient Unknown
1.4 tonnes
Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale Mesoplodon ginkgodens
Nishiwaki & Kamiya, 1958
Data deficient Unknown
1.5 tonnes
Stejneger's Beaked Whale Mesoplodon stejnegeri
True, 1885
Data deficient Unknown
1.5 tonnes
Layard's Beaked Whale Mesoplodon layardii
Gray, 1865
Data deficient Unknown
2 tonnes
Blainville's Beaked Whale Mesoplodon densirostris
Blainville, 1817
Data deficient Unknown
1 tonne
Perrin's Beaked Whale Mesoplodon perrini
Dalebout, Mead, Baker, Baker, & van Helding, 2002
Data deficient Unknown

Superfamily Platanistoidea: river dolphins

River dolphins are four species of dolphin which reside in freshwater rivers and estuaries. They are classed in the Platanistoidea superfamily of cetaceans. Three species live in fresh water rivers. The fourth species, the La Plata Dolphin, lives in saltwater estuaries and the ocean. However it is scientifically classed in the river dolphin family rather than the oceanic dolphin family. All species have adaptations to facilitate fish catching: a long, forceps-like beak with numerous small teeth in both jaws, broad flippers to allow tight turns, small eyes, and unfused neck vertebrae to allow the head to move in relation to the body.

Family Iniidae: Boto

The Iniidae family of river dolphins is monotypic, containing only one genus and one species: the Boto. Although in the past two species were thought to exist is now accepted that just three subspecies of the Boto exist:

  • I.g. geoffrensis - Amazon basin population (excluding Madeira river drainage area, above the Teotonio Rapids in Bolivia)
  • I.g. boliviensis - Amazon basin population in the Madeira drainage area
  • I.g. humboldtiana - Orinoco basin population

Genus Inia - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Boto (Amazon River Dolphin) Inia geoffrensis
Blainville, 1817
Vulnerable (VU) Unknown
150 kilograms

Family Lipotidae: Baiji

The Lipotidae family is another monotypic taxon, containing only the Baiji. Fossil records suggest that the dolphin first appeared 25 million years ago and migrated from the Pacific Ocean to the Yangtze River 20 million years ago. The species was declared functionally extinct in 2006 after an expedition to record population numbers.

Genus Lipotes - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Baiji (Chinese River Dolphin) Lipotes vexillifer
Miller, 1918
Critically Endangered (CR) Possibly extinct 13
130 kilograms

Family Platanistidae: Ganges and Indus River Dolphin

The Platanistidae was originally thought to hold only one species (Ganges and Indus River Dolphin) but based on differences in skull structure, vertebrae and lipid composition scientists declared the two populations as separate species in the early 1970s. In 1998 the results of these studies were questioned and the classification reverted to the pre-1970 consensus. Thus, at present, there are two subpecies recognized in the genus Platanista, Platanista gangetica minor (the Indus dolphin) and Platanista gangetica gangetica (the Ganges River dolphin).

Genus Platanista - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
Ganges and Indus River Dolphin Platanista gangetica
Roxburgh, 1801
Endangered (EN) 1,100
200 kilograms

Family Pontoporiidae: La Plata River Dolphin

The La Plata River Dolphin is the only species of the Pontoporiidae family and of the Pontoporia genus.

Genus Pontoporia - 1 species
Common name Scientific name Status Population Distribution Size Picture
La Plata Dolphin Pontoporia blainvillei
Gervais & d'Orbigny, 1844
Data deficient 4,000-4,500
50 kilograms

Notes and references

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