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

Jeff Hogan hold a post showing identifying features of killer whales Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales shares details of Southern Resident and other types of killer whales with students prior to COVID restrictions. Photo courtesy of Killer Whale Tales.
A NOAA aerial survey crew gathers in front of a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft during a stop in Astoria, Oregon. A NOAA aerial survey crew gathers in front of a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft during a stop in Astoria, Oregon in 2014. From left: Lt. Michael Sandor Silagi, Office of Marine and Aviation Operations; Joel Schumacher, Scott Benson, and Tomoharu Eguchi, Southwest Fisheries Science Center; Camryn Allen, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center; Dan Prosperi, Southwest Fisheries Science Center; and Lt. Shanae Coker, Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.
close up of two dolphin dorsal fins in gray river Dolphins are important sentinels of the health of the marine environment. Credit: Marine Mammal Stranding Center

Research

Peer-Reviewed Research

Publications by Northeast Passive Acoustic Research Staff

Our staff regularly publish their findings in scientific journals and Center-produced documents…

Protected Species Gear Research

Eric Matzen collecting data during buoyless lobster trap tests. Testing gear with fishermen under actual fishing conditions is key to developing modifications that can reduce whale entanglements without significant loss of the targeted catch. …

Marine Mammal Molecular Genetics Laboratory

Using molecular genetic tools and techniques to study marine mammals and gather information essential for their successful conservation and management in the Southeast Region.

Southwest Fisheries Science Center Stock Assessments

Population assessments are a key component of marine resource management. These assessments allow us to evaluate and report the status of managed fisheries, marine mammals, and endangered/threatened species under the authorities of the Magnuson-Stevens…

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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Species

28 species match your filter criteria.