How do you tell the difference between dolphins and porpoises ? Find out in this article.
For years many people have used the word dolphin and porpoise interchangeably. Many people mistakenly believe that a dolphin is a porpoise and vice versa. They are very similar indeed and share many common characteristics. However, there are some differences between the two. Let's discuss the similarities and differences so you can amaze your friends with your knowledge.
Both dolphins and porpoises are mammals. Even though they both live in the ocean, they are not fish. They do not have breathing gills. They have lungs and breathe air. Both also give birth to live young and nurse those young. A mammal is also characterized by having the presence of hair: when dolphins and porpoises are small, there are small hair follicles.
Dolphins and porpoises belong to the same scientific order, Cetacea. This order includes all whales, even the great whales, to which both dolphins and porpoises are related. All cetaceans are completely aquatic mammals, have a streamlined body, a tail fluke, and a blowhole (which is what these air-breathing animals use to breathe). The dolphins and porpoises are also classified in the scientific suborder, Odontoceti, which are the toothed whales. All odontocetes also have the ability to echolocate, the ability to detect objects in their underwater environment using the echoes of a sound, much like sonar.
Porpoises and dolphins are classified into two different families. The porpoises are in the family Phocoenidae and the dolphins are in the family Delphinidae. When separated at the family level, dolphins and porpoises are as physically different as cats and dogs.
In comparison to dolphins, porpoises are very small. Porpoises seldom exceed 7 feet in length, whereas many dolphins can exceed 10 feet in length. Porpoises are also more robust than dolphins. Dolphins have a lean sleek body, whereas porpoises often appear chubby. The dorsal fin (the fin on the back of the animal) in porpoises is also triangular, looking more like a shark. The dorsal fin of the dolphin is shaped in a wave. Porpoises lack a rostrum or a beak. This rostrum is very prominent in dolphins. The teeth of the porpoise are spade-shaped, whereas the teeth of the dolphin are conical or cone-shaped.
Many porpoises do not live past their mid-teens. Porpoises have an intensive reproduction schedule that may play a role in their lack of longevity. A porpoise can become pregnant each year, give birth, and then it can become pregnant again five or six weeks later, so it can be nursing and pregnant at the same time. This can also happen in dolphins, but dolphins are larger in size and it seems their body is suited for handling such occurrences, and anyhow it is less common. Dolphins can live in an upwards of fifty years.
There are many behavior differences as well as physical differences. For the most part, porpoises are shy animals. They do not often approach people or boats. The dolphin, on the other hand, if often seen riding the bow wave of fishing boats. We rarely see porpoises at the surface unless they are coming up for a breath.
The dolphin, rather than the porpoise, is often seen in marine animal shows. This comes back to the idea that dolphins tend to show a lesser fear of man than porpoises. This is often why dolphins, not porpoises, get stuck in tuna nets. For this reason dolphins are widely studied whereas porpoises are not.
Both dolphins and porpoises have an unique social order. While both use their teeth as a form of tactile communication within the social group, scientists believe that unlike dolphins, porpoises do not use underwater whistles to communicate. Dolphins actually use their blowholes to create a whistling noise, which is used particularly often to communicate between mother and calf.
Dolphins and porpoises have a lot in common. There are some differences, but the similarities among their behavior and looks outweigh the minute differences. You are more likely to see a dolphin, both in the wild and captivity. Consider yourself lucky if you encounter a porpoise in either situation.