Dolphins vs Porpoises: What’s the Difference?

footer image, crystal clear water - bottom of the ocean - coral reef
Explaining the Importance of Algae
Harbor Breeze LA Whale Watching Cruise
10 Facts about Whale Sharks
Common dolphin flying out water on Los Angeles whale watching cruise

The debate of dolphins vs porpoises has taken place for years. In terms of similarities, the two animals are both marine mammals related to whales. All three groups of mammals are cetaceans. Marine biologists place porpoises and dolphins in the toothed whale category together. They are both warm-blooded mammals that breathe air and nurse their young. 

Both dolphins and porpoises are brilliant animals that look similar in appearance. Yet, there are many differences between dolphins and porpoises, and learning about them can help you quickly distinguish between them. Dolphins are part of the Delphinidae family. They have larger snouts and mouths and can grow much larger than porpoises. Porpoises are part of the Phocoenidae family and are shorter animals that rarely grow more than eight feet in length. Yet, porpoises have more robust bodies than dolphins. This size discrepancy is the most profound difference between dolphins and porpoises. When comparing dolphins vs porpoises, most dolphins are more social than porpoises and live in larger, more stable groups that stick together. 

Interesting Facts About Porpoises 

While not quite as sociable as dolphins, most porpoises are still social and playful mammals. They live in groups or shoals that can vary greatly in numbers. Studies show that shoal size depends on the species of porpoise. Like dolphins, porpoises have a single blowhole and blubber to keep them warm. Unlike dolphins, porpoises have blunt stouts and spade-shaped teeth. This is another primary difference between dolphins and porpoises

The Different Types of Porpoises 

According to information from The Society for Marine Mammalogy, there are three types of porpoises. Within the three types of porpoises, there are seven primary species: 

  • Dall’s porpoises live in deep marine waters, and you will likely see them in the northern Pacific Ocean, including the United States and Canada. You may also see them in Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, and Russia
  • The harbor porpoise lives in shallow coastal waters and occupies regions in America, Europe, and Asia
  • Spectacled porpoises live in colder waters, and you may spot them in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Australia
  • Indo-Pacific finless porpoise live in shallow waters of coasts and mangroves, and you may spot one in India, Iran, Singapore, Cambodia, or Bangladesh
  • Burmeister’s porpoises live in shallow marine waters or sometimes channels, and you have the best chance of seeing them in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Argentina, or Uruguay
  • Narrow-ridged finless porpoises are in danger of extinction and live in coastal areas or large rivers in Korea, Japan, or China
  • The vaquita porpoise lives in shallow and often turbid marine waters in Mexico and is on the endangered species list

The Porpoise’s Preferred Diet 

Porpoises mainly eat schooling fish and hunt those that are fast-moving such as mackerel and herring. Sometimes, they also enjoy eating squid and other sea creatures. When comparing the diets of dolphins vs porpoises, they are very similar.

Porpoises and Their Offspring 

Porpoises are sexually dimorphic animals, and the females are usually larger in size than the males. They grow and mature more quickly than dolphins and start breeding early. Breeds, such as the female harbor porpoise, begin to have young before they reach the age of three. Bottlenose dolphins are still staying close to their mothers at this age. Researchers believe that females have one calf a year. 

Dolphins and porpoises are charismatic, social, and playful creatures. The chance for people to see these amazing animals while out on the open water is always a joy. It is common to mistake the two animals for each other which is where the experts at Harbor Breeze come in.  Harbor Breeze Cruises offers a fantastic opportunity to watch porpoises and dolphins in their natural habitat daily. Join us for relaxation, whale watching, and taking in all the beauty and marine life the open waters offer. 

Buy Tickets