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White Beaked Dolphin

Physical description

The white-beaked dolphin grows up to 3.1 metres and is sturdy and plump-looking. The body is mostly black or grey with a pale saddle behind the dorsal fin and white bands on the flanks. The belly is white and although called the white-beaked dolphin the beak is sometimes grey or even darker. The dorsal fin is prominent and falcate and is placed mid-way down the body. The pectoral fins are short and wide and it has a prominently keeled peduncle (the area between the dorsal fin and the tail).


This species is endemic to the temperate and sub-arctic waters of the North Atlantic as far north as the White Sea and occasionally as far south as the Spanish coast. It is common off the Norwegian coast and in the North Sea and is often found in the Baltic Sea as well. Less are found in the northwest Atlantic but there are abundant populations off Labrador and they are found as far south as Cape Cod.


White-beaked dolphins are typically seen in groups of 5 to 50 and occasionally in schools of several hundred. They are attracted by boats and often bow ride. They are very acrobatic and have a distinctive “rooster tail splash” when swimming fast. White-beaked dolphins are often seen in mixed groups with white-sided dolphins and they also associate with feeding fin whales and humpback whales. They are not well-adapted to ice formation and often get trapped in groups by new ice.


The age of sexual maturity for the white-beaked dolphin is not known but the females seem to become mature when they grow to 2.4 metres and males to 2.5 metres. Mating takes place in the summer between June and September and gestation is about 10 to 11 months so that calving occurs in the early summer.


In eastern Canada the white-beaked dolphins are sometimes known as “squid-hounds”, but they also eat a wide range of fish, ranging from small schooling fish such as common herring to larger bottom-dwelling fish such as cod, whiting and haddock. They are also known to eat molluscs, octopus and some crustaceans.

Current situation

Although not commercially hunted, these dolphins are killed by hunters and fishermen in Newfoundland, Labrador, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. The white-beaked dolphin is found abundantly in patches so it is difficult to estimate the overall population but it is thought that there may be a few hundred thousand individuals. There has been a marked decrease in populations in the northwest Atlantic but an increase in the populations off Europe.