Common Porpoises

 

Common Name: Common Porpoises
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Suborder: Odontoceti
Family: Phocoenidae
Genus: Phocoena
Species: Four species:
Spectacled porpoise Phocoena dioptrica
Harbor porpoise Phocoena phocoena
Vaquita or Gulf porpoise Phocoena sinus
Burmeister's porpoise Phocoena spinipinnis
 



Genus: Phocoena

The porpoises of the genus Phocoena belong to the Mammalian Order Cetacea, in the suborder Odontoceti. All toothed whales belong to the suborder Odontoceti, which is Latin for "toothed whales". These porpoises belong to the porpoise family, Phocoenidae. Other members of this family include the finless porpoise and Dall's porpoise. The generic name, Phocoena, is from the Greek phokaina, which means "porpoise". Some scientists place the spectacled porpoise in a separate genus, Australophocaena, based on a variety of skeletal differences. One such skeletal difference is the presence of more vertebra in the spectacled porpoise than the other species in Phocoena.

Members of this genus are among the smallest cetaceans. With the exception of the spectacled porpoise, most prefer coastal waters. Groups of 5-10 individuals are not uncommon for all species. Prey species include herring, pollack, mackerel, cod, and sardines. Lifespan is short, usually 8-10 years.

Spectacled porpoise Phocoena dioptrica

The specific name, dioptrica, refers to the distinctive eye rings of this species. The spectacled porpoise is black dorsally and white both laterally and ventrally. The dorsal fin is not pointed, similar to dorsal fins of dolphins in the genus Cephalorhynchus. Adults reach 4-6ft in length. Spectacled porpoise prefer the coastal waters of the southern tip of South America and the cool Antarctic waters. The biology and behavior of this species are not well known.



Harbor porpoise Phocoena phocoena

The specific name, phocoena, is Greek for "porpoise". The harbor porpoise lives in the coastal waters of the Northern Hemisphere. The harbor porpoise is dark gray or black dorsally, with a lighter underside. Adults grow to about five feet in length and weigh 100-145lbs. Gestation last 10-11 months. Newborn calves are 2-3ft in length and weigh 15-20lbs.



Vaquita or Gulf porpoise Phocoena sinus

The specific name, sinus, is Latin for "hollow cavity". This may describe a characteristic of the porpoise's skull. The common name, vaquita, means "little cow" in Spanish. The vaquita has a very small range, comprising only the Gulf of California. This species is gray dorsally with a lighter underside. Adults grow to about five feet in length, weighing about 110lbs.



Burmeister's porpoise Phocoena spinipinnis

The specific name, spinipinnis, is derived from the Latin spina, meaning "spike", and pinna, meaning "fin". The term "spike-finned" is referring to the porpoise's . The common name is named for Dr. Herman Karl Konrad Burmeister (1807-1892), a Director of the Zoological Museum at Halle University in Germany. This species' primary range includes the coastal waters of South America. This species is gray dorsally, with a lighter underside. Its dorsal fin sits farther back on its body than other dolphin and porpoise species, and is pointed towards the flukes. Adults grow 5-6 feet in length and weigh 125-175lbs.

Conservation

Of the Phocoena species, the harbor porpoise is the most widespread and least threatened. Very little data exists on the spectacled porpoise. All species accidentally drown from fishing nets. The vaquita is critically endangered, and only 100-300 individuals are estimated to remain in the Gulf of California. The region is now protected by the Mexican government.

 

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.