Last modified: Monday January 29th, 2001

White-beaked dolphin

Lagenorhynchus albirostris(Gray, 1846)


copyright George McCallum
© George McCallum

The white-beaked dolphin is dark grey to black dorsally, with a lighter "saddle patch" just behind the dorsal fin. There is a dark grey-white blaze from above the eye, across the flanks to the anal arae. The rostrum is white to light-grey. The body is very stocky and torpedo-shaped. The beak is rather short and the flippers are broad. The dorsal fin is tall and sickle-shaped. The tail stock is very thick. The adult white-beaked dolphin is 2.5-2.7 m long and weighs about 180 kg (maximum: 3 m and 275 kg (Peet et al, 1992)). They have 22-28 pairs of small sharp-pointed teeth in each jaw. They are fast swimmers, often creating so-called "rooster tails" of water, like Dall's porpoises do.


The white-beaked dolphin can be found in the temperate and sub-polar waters of the North Atlantic. They usually swim in small groups of 6-10 animals, but occassionally aggregate in groups of up to 1,500 animals (Minasian et al (1984, Klinowska (1991)). They occassionally mix with Atlantic white-sided dolphin groups.

Population dynamics and life history

Calves are born between June and September. At birth they are about 115 cm long and weigh 40 kg. They reach sexual maturity at a length of 1.95 m.

Population status

Very little is known about this species. They are common off Cape Cod in spring and seasonally abundant near Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. They are probably the most common dolphin in Icelandic waters and in the North Sea.

copyright George McCallum
© George McCallum


This species has been exploited on a low level for some time in Norway and the Barents Sea and around Iceland(Mitchell, 1975). There may still be a small take of this species in Greeland and the Faeroe Islands. It is also by-caught in gillnet fisheries, but the number of dolphins killed in these fisheries is unknown (Read (1994), IWC (1996)). A bycatch of 45 animals was reported for the Netherlands fisheries in 1994 (IWC, 1996). To date there has been only one animals kept in captivity at the (now defunct) Dolfirama in Zandvoort, the Netherlands. This animal was live stranded in July 1982. It was transported to a facility in Germany in 1983, where it died the same year (Peet et al, 1992). A number of animals have been housed temporarily in rehabilitation facilities in Mystic, Boston and Harderwijk, after being stranded.


Van Bree and Nijssen(1964) found the otoliths of cod, haddock, herring and plaice in the stomachs of stranded animals. Squid, octopus and small crustaceans are also part of their diet.


van Bree, P.J.H and Nijssen, H. (1964)
On three specimens of Lagenorhynchus albirostris Gray, 1846 (Mammalia, Cetacea). Beaufortia 11(139):85-93
Evans, P.G.H. (1987)
The natural history of whales and dolphins. Christopher Helm, London.
International Whaling Commission (1996)
Report of the sub-committee on small cetaceans. Rep. Int. Whal. Commn. 46:160-179
Klinowska, M. (1991)
Dolphins, Porpoises and Whales of the World. The IUCN Red Data Book. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
Minasian, S.M., Balcomb III, K.C. and Foster, L. (1984)
The world's whales. The complete illustrated guide. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C.
Mitchell, E. (1975)
Porpoise, dolphin and small whale fisheries of the world. Status and problems. IUCN Monograph No. 3. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland
Peet, G., Nijkamp, H., Nelissen, P.-H. and Maas, F.-J. (1992)
Bruinvissen dolfijnen en walvissen van de Noordzee. Uitgeverij M&P, Weert, the Netherlands.
Read, A.J. (1994)
Interactions between cetaceans and gillnet and trap fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic. In: W.F. Perrin, G.P. Donovan and J. Barlow (eds.): Gillnets and cetaceans. Rep. Int. Whal. Commn. (Special Issue 15):133-147 (SC/O90/G6)

About the pictures

The pictures of this beautiful dolphin species were kindly provided by George McCallum. Note that these pictures are copyrighted by him. For any information about the pictures, please mail George directly. See George's Whalephoto Berlin site for more pictures.

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