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Burmeister's Porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis)


Burmeister's porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis) was described by Hermann Burmeister in 1865, which is how it came to be called Burmeister's porpoise. It is also known as the black porpoise. This is one of seven porpoise species, all of which are in the Family Phocoenidae.


This porpoise has tubercles (small, prickly bumps) on the front (leading edge) of its dorsal fin, which gave it its Spanish name marsopa espinosa - "spiny porpoise." Its species name, spinipinnis comes from the Latin words spina ("thorn") and pina ("fin").

Burmeister's porpoises are thought to grow to a maximum length of 6.5 feet and weight of 187 pounds. Males are larger than females.

Like other porpoises, Burmeister's porpoise has a stocky body and blunt head. Their dorsal fin is set farther back than other porpoises. They have dark gray to brownish gray back and a light underside, with a dark gray stripe from their chin to the flipper. This stripe is more prominent on the porpoise's left side. Their mouth is upturned and containsspade-shaped teeth.


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Superclass: Gnathostomata, Tetrapoda
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Subclass: Theria
  • Order: Cetartiodactyla
  • Suborder: Cetancodonta
  • Suborder: Odontoceti
  • Infraorder: Cetacea
  • Superfamily: Odontoceti
  • Family: Phocoenidae
  • Genus: Phocoena
  • Species: spinipinnis

Habitat and Distribution:

Burmeister's porpoise is found in coastal waters off South America in the southeast Pacific and southwest Atlantic Oceans. This porpoise is usually seen in pairs or small groups, although groups as large as 150 have been observed.


Burmeister's porpoise prey upon fish, including anchovies, hake, silverside, sardines, jack mackerel, and drums, and also squid and shrimp.

Burmeister's porpoise have 10-23 spade-shaped teeth in each side of their upper jaw, and 14-23 teeth in each side of their lower jaw.

Like other toothed whales, they are capable of finding their prey using echolocation, which is similar to sonar. During echolocation, the porpoise emits high-frequency sound waves that bounce off objects and are received back into the porpoise's lower jaw. They are then transmitted to the inner ear and interpreted to determine the size, shape, location and distance of prey.


Little is known about the reproductive habits of this species, although the gestation period is thought to last 11-12 months, after which the female gives birth to a calf about 2-3 feet long. It is possible that females could give birth annually.


Burmeister's porpoises are listed as "data deficient" on the IUCN Red List due to lack of information on abundance and population trends. Since this species is difficult to see except in very calm conditions, there are limited field observations, and no estimates of population size.

The tendency of Burmeister's porpoises to live close to shore makes them especially vulnerable to interactions with fishing activities. Threats to this porpoise species include being hunted and used as crab bait in southern Chile, being caught as bycatch in net fisheries in Peru, and being caught in shark nets.

References and Further Information:

  • ETI BioInformatics. Burmeister's porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis). Marine Species Identification Portal. Accessed November 30, 2012.
  • Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K.A., Karkzmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W.F., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y. , Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B. 2012. Phocoena spinipinnis. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. . Accessed November 30, 2012.
  • Perrin, W.F., Wursig, B., and J.G.M. Thewissen. 2002. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press.
  • SeaLifeBase. Phocoena spinipinnis. Accessed November 30, 2012.
  • WDC Species Guide. Burmeister's Porpoise. Accessed November 30, 2012.
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