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

Stranded juvenile bottlenose dolphin Stranded juvenile bottlenose dolphin. Credit: Audubon Aquarium Rescue
Two stranding responders carry a stranded harbor porpoise away from some rocks A harbor porpoise is retrieved from the rocks at Odiorne Point State Park, New Hampshire. Credit: Seacoast Science Center
Side-by-side comparison of Bigg's killer on left and resident killer whale on right. Aerial images comparing the sizes of adult male Bigg’s and Resident killer whales, both taken in the Salish Sea off southern Vancouver Island. Images are scaled to lengths calculated during health research by SR3 SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation and Research. Images were collected by John Durban and Holly Fearnbach using a non-invasive drone authorized by research permit 19091 issued by the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
Original drawing by C.M. Scammon showing killer whale differences. California whaler Charles Melville Scammon first described the killer whales of the West Coast, and documented his observations and findings in a manuscript he sent to the Smithsonian Institution.

Research

Peer-Reviewed Research

Publications by Northeast Passive Acoustics Branch Staff

We regularly publish their findings in scientific journals and Center-produced documents.

Cetacean Genomes Project Team

Meet the scientists of the "Cetacean Genomes Project" which aims to facilitate generation of reference genomes of all cetacean species.

Killer Whale and Beaked Whale Posters

Art-Science Collaboration Celebrates the Diversity of Killer Whales and Beaked Whales from Around the World

Peer-Reviewed Research

Odontocete Detections Are Linked to Oceanographic Conditions in the Hawaiian Archipelago

Significant relationships with climate indices were found for many species of odontocetes and…

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

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