Dolphins & Porpoises

Dolphins and porpoises are at the top of the food chain and play an important role in the overall balance of the marine environment. They belong to a group of marine mammals called cetaceans. Marine mammals in the cetacean family include whales, dolphins, and porpoises. These animals are often referred to as “sentinels” of ocean health providing insight into marine ecosystem dynamics. Numerous studies have explored the effects of noise and chemical pollution, habitat degradation, and changes in climate on these animals.

Dolphins and porpoises tend to be social and live in groups. They exhibit complex methods of communication and echolocation making squeaks, buzzes, whistles, and clicks that can be heard from miles away. They are also thought to communicate by slapping the water’s surface with their tails or bodies. They range in size from the small, critically endangered vaquita porpoise to the iconic killer whale—the largest member of the Delphinidae, or dolphin family.

All dolphins and porpoises are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and some are also listed under the Endangered Species Act. Together with our partners, we work to study, protect, and conserve these fascinating species and their habitats.


Species News

Breaching dolphins along coastal Georgia. Breaching dolphins, proposed to soon be called Tamanend's bottlenose dolphins, along coastal Georgia. Credit: NOAA Fisheries (Permit # 779-1633).
Photograph of a mother vaquita and her calf surfacing in the waters off San Felipe, Mexico. As recently as Fall 2021 vaquitas were seen with calves. Credit: Paula Olson, 2008. A mother and calf vaquita surface in the waters off San Felipe, Mexico. As recently as Fall 2021 vaquitas were seen with calves. Credit: Paula Olson, 2008
Texas dolphin death Photo credit: Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Research

Marine Mammal Research Surveys in NOAA’s Southeast Region

How survey data is collected and used to inform marine mammal population assessments in the Southeast.

SWFSC Stranding Collections

What we collect and how tissues are used 

Marine Mammal Life History

Data collected from stranded and bycaught marine mammals are critical to understanding their life history

SWFSC Stranding Investigations

Investigating trends in marine mammals strandings

Insight

Understanding Sound in the Ocean

Levels of underwater noise from human activities—including from ships, sonar, and drilling—have increased dramatically.

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