Cetacean Society International

Working for whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide

CSI Photo Gallery

Burmeister's Porpoise

(Phocoena spinipinnis)

The Burmeister's porpoise is a small, shy, quiet, black cetacean with a very swept back round-tipped dorsal fin. Rarely photographed in the wild, they are so poorly known that much of what is said about them may change quickly. Reliable population estimates are just becoming available, although a more critical question is how many die in fishing nets, as in this picture. A general move inshore in summer and offshore during the austral winter seems linked to the cool Humboldt Current in the Pacific and the Atlantic's Falklands current. With an extensive coastal range, from about mid-Brazil (28°S) on the east, to Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel, and around Cape Horn, to northern Peru (5°S), this small (~1.8 meter) porpoise is usually seen offshore in waters as deep as 60 m, as well as coastal river mouths and estuaries, and along shore inside of kelp beds. (Photo courtesy of Daniza Molina, Peru)
The Burmeister's porpoise's scientific name, "spinipinnis", and common name in southern Brazil, "boto de dorsal espinhosa", refer to the two to four rows of small, blunt turbucules or bumps along the leading edge of the very swept back dorsal fin, as you can see here, but no one has a clue why they are there. Reported not to be very social, because they are usually seen alone or in pairs, they are also seen in groups up to eight, suggesting that, because they can be very hard to see, only a few individuals in a group might be noted. Larger groups come together for rich prey resources, but don't stay together long. They eat small schooling fish, squid, mysid shrimp and krill. It's been reported that up to two-thirds of the adult female Burmeister's porpoises might be pregnant at any one time, and perhaps a third of those still nursing their previous calf. Most births take place in February and March, after an 11-12 month gestation period. (Photo courtesy of Francisco Viddi Carrasco, Chile)