Description & Behavior

Burmeister’s porpoises, Phocoena spinipinnis (Burmeister, 1865), aka black porpoises, marsopa espinosa (“spiny porpoise”), have a beakless upturned mouth and a slight indentation near their blowhole. Their flippers are large, with a broad base and blunt tips. Their dorsal fin is set further back than on any other small cetaceans with a series of tubercles (bumps) found along its leading edge. Their tail stock (part just before the tail fins) thickens with age. Their body is dark-gray or black in color, occasionally appearing brown, and lightens to a pale gray on their ventral (under) side. A few moments after death, these porpoises turn entirely black (like finless porpoises) and they reach a maximum length of 1.85 m.

World Range & Habitat


Burmeister’s porpoises, Phocoena spinipinnis, inhabit shallow waters and estuaries in the temperate and subantarctic coastal waters around South America. They tend to be found in groups of between 1-8 individuals.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Burmeister’s porpoises, Phocoena spinipinnis, feed on anchovy and hake throughout most of their range. Squid, mysid shrimp, and euphasiids are also preyed upon. Burmeister’s porpoises in Chilean waters also appear to eat mollusks (snails, squid, octopuses, etc.).

Life History

Male Burmeister’s porpoises, Phocoena spinipinnis, appear to be slightly larger on average than females. Males reach sexual maturity at an average length of 1.55 m, and females at a length of 1.6 m.

Conservation Status & Comments

Burmeister’s porpoises, Phocoena spinipinnis, are listed as Data Deficient with the IUCN Redlist though some researchers consider them endangered with a estimated current population of only 500 individuals. Clearly, more work is needed to determine their current status as well as population numbers, etc. This porpoise has been exploited for thousands of years, and Peru and Chile still operate direct fisheries. Those on the Atlantic coast become trapped in fishing gear (see the IUCN link above for details).

References & Further Research

OBIS-SEAMAP – Species Profiles
Jefferson, T.A., S. Leatherwood, and M.A. Webber, FAO species identification guide, Marine mammals of the world, Rome, FAO. 1993. 320 p. 587 figs.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS)
Brownell Jr., R.L. and Clapham, P.J. 1999. Burmeister’s porpoise Phocoena spinipinnis. In S.H. Ridgeway & R. Harrison [eds.], Handbook of Marine Mammals, Volume 6: The Second Book of Dolphins and Porpoises. Academic Press. San Diego.

Research Phocoena spinipinnis @
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View related species: Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Phocoenidae Phocoena spinipinnis