Cetacean Taxonomy – Dolphins, Porpoises and Whales

KEYWORDS: dolphin taxonomy whale taxonomy porpoise taxonomy dolphin species whale species porpoise species baleen whales toothed whales

The terms “whales”, “dolphins”, and “porpoises”, are not scientific and have been used interchangeably throughout history. Usually the term “whale” is used to describe a large cetacean whereas smaller cetaceans are usually called dolphins or popoises. Porpoises however, should refer only to the six species belonging to the family Phocoenidae. To make matters worse, there is also a dolphin fish, better known as mahi-mahi or dorado.

  MYSTICETI (BALEEN WHALES)

BALAENIDAE (RIGHT WHALES)

NEOBALAENIDAE (PYGMY RIGHT WHALES)

BALAENOPTERIDAE (RORQUAL WHALES)

ESCHRICHTIIDAE (GRAY WHALES)


ODONTOCETI (TOOTHED WHALES)

PHYSETERIDAE (SPERM WHALES)

KOGIIDAE (DWARF & PYGMY SPERM WHALES)

ZIPHIIDAE (BEAKED WHALES)

DELPHINIDAE (DOLPHINS)

MONODONTIDAE (WHITE WHALES)

PLATANISTIDAE (GANGES RIVER DOLPHINS)

INIIDAE (AMAZON RIVER DOLPHINS)

LIPOTIDAE (YANGTZE RIVER DOLPHINS)

PONTOPORIIDAE (LA PLATA DOLPHINS)

PHOCOENIDAE (PORPOISES)


Taxonomy is the science of classification – it is an organized method of dividing plants and animals into groups. It is one of the ‘languages’ of biology.

All known living organisms (animals and plants), are classified as species, genera, and higher categories. This form of “bookkeeping”, known as taxonomy, was started by Swedish physician and naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), in his work Systema Naturae, in 1735. His “binomial” system gave all then known animal and plant species a two part scientific name; a capitalized generic name, and a trivial name, that isn’t. Scientific names were usually, and still are today, given in latin or greek, as well as being italicized or underlined. 1758, the year that the tenth edition of Linnaeus’ work was published, is regarded as the official starting point of our modern taxonomy. As new plants and animals have been discovered, Linnaeus’ classification system has grown and evolved.

As common names vary by country and even region, having standard scientific names that are recognized all over the world, is very important. Otherwise how would people in different parts of the world talk about animals and be certain that they both know exactly which animal they are talking about? Taxonomy however, remains a continuously contested science as new

THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF THE WAY THE BLUE WHALE FITS INTO THE CLASSIFICATION SCHEME:
kingdom Animalia  
phylum Chordata vertebrates (amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles
class Mammalia mammals
order Cetacea marine mammals
family Balaenopteridae  rorquals
genus Balaenoptera from the Latin balaena for “whale” and the Greek pteron for “wing” or “fin”. *
species

(common
   name:

musculus

BLUE WHALE)

from the Latin musculus, dimunutive of mus for mouse (perhaps meant as a joke, but sometimes also interpreted as muscular). *
* from Leatherwood, Stephen, and Randall R. Reeves. The Sierra Club Handbook of Whales and Dolphins.   Paintings by Larry Foster. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1983. 47.

species are still being discovered and recent developments in the field of DNA (deoxyribonicleic acid) are challenging the old classification, based largely on anatomical similarities and evolutionary descent.

Below, shows the most current classification of the order of Cetacea. From the latin word cetus, and Greek ketos, meaning large sea creature or monster, it includes all known living whales, dolphins, and porpoises. This list will undoubtedly change as researchers find out more and more about cetaceans

The terms “whales”, “dolphins”, and “porpoises”, are not scientific and have been used interchangeably throughout history. Usually the term “whale” is used to describe a large cetacean whereas smaller cetaceans are usually called dolphins or popoises. Porpoises however, should refer only to the six species belonging to the family Phocoenidae. To make matters worse, there is also a dolphin fish, better known as mahi-mahi or dorado.

English common names used in the list are by no means standardized but follow mostly those used by the IWC (International Whaling Commission). Classification follows largely Dale W. Rice’s, (1998) Marine Mammals of the World: Systematics and Distribution, special publication No. 4. by the Society of Marine Mammology

A guide to the pronunciation of biological Latin in English speech can be found at www.saltspring.com/capewest/pron.htm.

  suborder Mysticeti (baleen whales)  

       
family Balaenidae (right whales)
  Eubalaena glacialis   Atlantic northern right whale
Eubalaena japonica   Pacific northern right whale
Eubalaena australis   Southern right whale
Balaena mysticetus bowhead whale
       
family Neobalaenidae
  Caperea marginata   pygmy right whale
       
family Balaenopteridae (rorquals)
  Balaenoptera musculus   blue whale
Balaenoptera physalus   fin whale
Balaenoptera borealis   sei whale
Balaenoptera edeni   Bryde’s whale
Balaenoptera acutorostrata common minke whale
Balaenoptera bonaerensis antarctic minke whale
Megaptera novaeangliae  humpback whale
       
family Eschrichtiidae
  Eschrichtius robustus   gray whale


       
family Physeteridae
  Physeter macrocephalus   sperm whale
       
family Kogiidae
  Kogia breviceps   pygmy sperm whale
Kogia sima   dwarf sperm whale
       
family Ziphiidae (beaked whales)
  Berardius bairdii   Baird’s beaked whale
Berardius arnuxii   Arnoux’ beaked whale
Tasmacetus shepherdi   Shepherd’s beaked whale
Ziphius cavirostris   Cuvier’s beaked whale
Hyperoodon ampullatus   northern bottlenose whale
Indopacetus pacificus   Longman’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon hectori   Hector’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon mirus   True’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon europaeus   Gervais’ beaked whale
Mesoplodon ginkgodens   ginkgo-toothed beaked whale
Mesoplodon grayi   Gray’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon carlhubbsi   Hubbs’ beaked whale
Mesoplodon stejnegeri   Stejneger’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon bowdoini   Andrew’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon bidens   Sowerby’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon layardii   strap-toothed whale
Mesoplodon densirostris   Blainville’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon peruvianus   Pygmy beaked whale
Mesoplodon traversii   spade-toothed whale
Mesoplodon perrini   Perrin’s beaked whale whale
 

  suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales)  

       
family Delphinidae (dolphins)
  Steno bredanensis   rough-toothed dolphin
Sousa chinensis   Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphin
Sousa teuszii   Atlantic hump-backed dolphin
Sotalia fluviatilis   tucuxi
Tursiops truncatus   bottlenose dolphin
Tursiops aduncus   Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin
Stenella longirostris   spinner dolphin
Stenella clymene   clymene dolphin
Stenella frontalis   Atlantic spotted dolphin
Stenella attenuata   pantropical spotted dolphin
Stenella coeruleoalba   striped dolphin
Delphinus delphis   short-beaked common dolphin
Delphinus capensis   long-beaked common dolphin
Lagenodelphis hosei   Fraser’s dolphin
Lagenorhynchus albirostris   white-beaked dolphin
Lagenorhynchus acutus   Atlantic white-sided dolphin
Lagenorhynchus obliquidens Pacific white-sided dolphin
Lagenorhynchus obscurus   dusky dolphin
Lagenorhynchus australis   Peale’s dolphin
Lagenorhynchus cruciger   hourglass dolphin
Cephalorhynchus commersonii Commerson’s dolphin
Cephalorhynchus heavisidii   Heaviside’s dolphin
Cephalorhynchus eutropia   black dolphin
Cephalorhynchus hectori   Hector’s dolphin
Lissodelphis borealis   northern right whale dolphin
Lissodelphis peronii   southern right whale dolphin
Grampus griseus   Risso’s dolphin
Peponocephala electra   melon-headed whale
Feresa attenuata   pygmy killer whale
Pseudorca crassidens   false killer whale
Globicephala melas   long-finned pilot whale
Globicephala macrorhynchus short-finned pilot whale
Orcinus orca   killer whale
Orcaella brevirostris   Irrawaddy dolphin
       
family Monodontidae (white whales)
  Delphinapterus leucas   beluga, white whale
Monodon monoceros   narwhal
       
family Platanistidae
  Platanista gangetica   Ganges & Indus river dolphin
       
family Iniidae
  Inia geoffrensis   boto, Amazon river dolphin
       
family Lipotidae
  Lipotes vexillifer   baiji, Yangtze river dolphin
       
family Pontoporiidae
  Pontoporia blainvillei   franciscana, La Plata dolphin
       
family Phocoenidae (porpoises)
  Phocoena phocoena   harbor porpoise
Phocoena sinus   vaquita
Phocoena dioptrica   spectacled porpoise
Phocoena spinnipinnis   Burmeister’s porpoise
Neophocaena phocaenoides finless porpoise
Phocoenoides dalli   Dall’s porpoise

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