Burmeister's porpoise

Phocoena spinipinnis
Other names: 
  • Black porpoise
Maximum length: 
  • Male: 2m
  • Female: 1.8m
  • Calf: 0.8m
Maximum weight: 
  • Male: Unknown
  • Female: 85kg
  • Calf: Unknown
  • Fish (including anchovies and hake)
  • Squid
  • Shrimp
Estimated population: 
IUCN Listing: 
CITES Appendix: 
CMS Appendix: 

Burmeister's porpoises are not well known as they are difficult to spot at sea unless the conditions are calm. Limited sightings have been documented and relatively minimal information has been collected to date although it is known that this species has been, and continues to be, subject to extensive directed hunts off the coasts of both Peru and Chile. Their meat is used as bait in crab and shark fisheries and for human consumption.


The Burmeister's porpoise is shaped like a typical porpoise; it has a robust body shape, flat forehead, no beak, and a single blowhole. The upturned mouth gives it the appearance of smiling and has 10 to 23 pairs of teeth in the upper jaw, and 14 to 23 pairs in the lower. The body is dark grey or black, with a lighter belly. It has dark lips and eye patches, and stripes running from the chin to the flippers with the stripe on the left side generally being wider. The dorsal fin and flippers are small and backward pointing. The Burmeister's porpoise differs from all other porpoises in the position of its dorsal fin, set well behind the middle of the back. The fin has circular bumps known as tubercles along the leading edge, giving rise to the species Latin name. This species can be mistaken for several others depending on the area. It may be confused with Chilean dolphins, the franciscana dolphin, or the spectacled porpoise, but the distinctive placement of the dorsal fin and colour pattern allow for accurate identification.


When surfacing, Burmeister's porpoises barely disturb the water so they are easy to overlook at sea unless conditions are calm. They move erratically, rarely breach and are usually found in small groups, which scatter when approached. They usually move alone or in pairs, but sometimes can be seen in larger groups of up to 10 individuals. These higher numbers are probably a result of concentrated food sources. It is thought that they move close to shore at night.


The Burmeister´s porpoise is endemic to South America. They can be found from northern Peru on the Pacific coast, to southern Brazil on the Atlantic coast. They are believed to be more common on the Pacific coast than the Atlantic and they seem to prefer cold, shallow waters and estuaries near the coast. There are not enough observations at sea to be sure whether their range is continuous or fragmented and their population worldwide is unknown due to a lack of information. Threats to Burmeister's porpoises include hunting and entanglement in fishing nets. It is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN (2018).

Distribution map: