Northern Right Whale Dolphin

Species Profile: The Northern Right Whale Dolphin

The Northern Right Whale Dolphin is an exceptionally smooth bodied and slender species of Oceanic dolphins.

Northern Right Whale Dolphin
Northern Right Whale Dolphins Are Easily Identified By Their Slender Bodies And Lack Of Dorsal Fin (Photo: NOAA)

The Northern Right Whale Dolphin is a small and slender member of the Oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae) that’s found in the North Pacific Ocean. They are highly social animals often seen in large pods of up to 2000 individuals. They also interact with other cetaceans species like the Pacific White-sided dolphin.

Along with the Southern Right whale dolphin, this species is often referred simply as “right whale” dolphin because just like right whales, they have no dorsal fin.

Northern right whale dolphins have a very sleek and streamlined build with a sloping forehead. In fact, they are more slender than other dolphins. Their bodies are mostly back with an irregular white patch on chin area and a white underbelly.

These dolphins are known for swimming fast and their very acrobatic displays in the waters. They leap frequently out of water and are fond of approaching boats.

The IUCN lists this dolphin as a Least Concern species.

1) Scientific Name

Lissodelphis Borealis

2) Scientific Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family:Delphinidae
  • Genus: Lissodelphis
  • Species: Lissodelphis Borealis

3) Life Expectancy


4) Average/Maximum Length

Adult males grow to around 3.1 meters (10 feet) in length and females to about 2.3 to 2.6 meters (7.7 to 8.6 feet).

5) Average/Maximum Weight

Adults weigh between 60 and 100 kg (130 and 220 lbs.)

6) Maximum Swimming Speed

The Northern right whale dolphin travels fast at up to 30 and 40 km/h (19 to 25 mph) out in the open ocean.

7) Interaction With/Danger To Humans

Out in the open ocean, these dolphins frequently approach boats out of curiosity. They also enjoy bowriding along with the waves created by fast moving boats.

There are no records of a Northern right whale dolphin harming humans.

From afar, the Northern right whale is easily mistaken for a sea lion.

8) Reproduction Details

Unlike adults, calves are born grayish-brown or even cream colored. They remain this color for about a year before they gradually turn black.

Newborn Northern right whale calves measure about 90 cm (35 in).

9) Diet/Hunting Pattern of The Northern Right Whale Dolphin

They mainly feed on surface and mid-water fish such as lanternfish, hake, and sauries. In addition, they eat squid and octopus. These dolphins can dive as deep as 200 meters (660 feet) in search of prey.

10) Alternative Names

  • Northern Right Whale Porpoise
  • Snake Porpoise
  • Pacific Right Whale Porpoise

11) Population And Conservation Status

Exact population of this species is unknown but estimates put them at about 110 in the eastern part of the North Pacific and 200 dolphins in the western North Pacific.

These dolphins suffered heavy casualties as bycatch in the era of the now rested North Pacific drift-net fishery back in the 1990s. Thousands of them were caught every year.

Japanese hunters also catch it in small numbers. Though their initial population reduced by about one-quarter to three-quarter, it is listed by the IUCN lists it as Least Concern.

12) Ancestry And History

Titian Peale was the first person to describe the Northern right whale dolphin in detail in 1848.

It belongs to the genus Lissodelphis of the oceanic dolphin family. This family includes other dolphins like the common bottlenose dolphin, the Orca (killer whale), and the Pacific white-sided dolphin, etc. Their scientific name Lissodelphis Borealis comes from the Greek words lisso (smooth),  borealis (northern distribution).

13) Distribution And Habitat

The northern right-whale dolphin dwells exclusively in the cool temperate waters of the North Pacific between the west coast of North America and Asia.

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