Types of Toothed Whales

Learn About the Odontocete Species

Sperm Whale and Calf, Portugal
Sperm Whale and Calf, Portugal. Westend61/Getty Images

There are currently 86 recognized species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Of these, 72 are Odontocetes, or toothed whales. Toothed whales often gather in large groups, called pods, and sometimes these groups are made up of related individuals. Below you can learn about some of the toothed whale species. For a lengthier list that includes baleen whales, click here.

Sperm Whale Image / Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation
Sperm whale back, showing wrinkled skin. © Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation
Sperm whales ( Physeter macrocephalus) are the largest toothed whale species. Males are much larger than females, and may grow to about 60 feet in length, while females grow to about 36 feet. Sperm whales have large, square heads and 20-26 conical teeth on each side of its lower jaw. These whales were made famous by Herman Melville's book Moby Dick.

Risso's Dolphin

Risso's dolphins are a medium-sized toothed whale that have stout bodies and a tall, falcate dorsal fin. The skin of these dolphins lighten as they age. Young Risso's dolphins are black, dark gray or brown while older Risso's may be light gray to white.

Pygmy Sperm Whale

The pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) is fairly small - adults can grow up to about 10 feet in length and 900 pounds in weight. Like their larger namesake, they are stocky with a squarish head.

Orca (Killer Whale)

Orcas, or killer whales (Orcinus orca) may also be known as "Shamu" due to their popularity as an attraction at marine parks like SeaWorld. Despite their name, there has never been a report of a killer whale attacking a human in the wild. Killer whales can grow up to 32 feet (males) or 27 feet (females), and weigh up to 11 tons. They have tall dorsal fins - the male's dorsal fin can grow as tall as 6 feet tall. These whales are easily identified by their striking black-and-white coloration.

Short-Finned Pilot Whale

Short-finned pilot whales are found in deep, tropical and subtropical waters around the world. They have dark skin, rounded heads and large dorsal fins. Pilot whales tend to gather in large pods, and may mass strand.

Long-Finned Pilot Whale

Long-finned pilot whales are found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, plus the Mediterranean and Black Seas. They are found primarily in deep, offshore temperate waters. Like the short-finned pilot whale, they have rounded heads and dark skin.

Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are one of the most well-known cetacean species. These dolphins can grow to 12 feet in length and 1,400 pounds in weight. They have a gray back and lighter underside.

Beluga Whale

Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) are white whales that can grow to 13-16 feet in length and up to 3,500 pounds in weight. Their whistles, chirps, clicks and squeaks could be heard by sailors through boat hulls and on the water, causing them to nickname these whales "sea canaries."

Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin

Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) are strikingly-colored dolphins that live in temperate waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. They can grow to 9 feet in length and 500 pounds in weight.

Long-Beaked Common Dolphin

Long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis) are one of two species of common dolphin (the other is the short-beaked common dolphin). Long-beaked common dolphins grow to about 8.5 feet in length and 500 pounds in weight. They may be found in large groups.

Short-Beaked Common Dolphin

Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) are a wide-ranging dolphin that is found throughout the temperate waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. They have a unique "hourglass" pigmentation made up of dark gray, light gray, white and yellow coloration.

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin

Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) are found throughout temperate waters of the Pacific Ocean. They can grow to about 8 feet in length and 400 pounds in weight. They have a striking black, white and gray coloration that is quite different from the similarly-named Atlantic white-sided dolphin.

Spinner Dolphin

Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) get their name from their unique leaping and spinning behavior, that can involve at least 4 body revolutions. These dolphins grow to about 7 feet in length and 170 pounds, and are found in tropical and subtropical oceans around the world.

Vaquita/Gulf of California Harbor Porpoise/Cochito

The vaquita, also known as the Gulf of California harbor porpoise or cochito (Phocoena sinus) is one of the smallest cetaceans, and has one of the smallest home ranges. These porpoises live in the northern Gulf of California off Mexico's Baja Peninsula, and are one of the most endangered cetaceans - only about 250 remain.

Harbor Porpoise

Harbor porpoises are toothed whales that are about 4-6 feet long. They live in the temperate and subarctic waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and Black Sea.

Commerson's Dolphin

 The strikingly-colored Commerson's dolphin includes two subspecies - one lives off South America and the Falkland Islands, while the other lives in the Indian Ocean. These small dolphins are about 4-5 feet long.

Rough-Toothed Dolphin

The prehistoric-looking rough-toothed dolphin gets its name from the wrinkles on its tooth enamel. Rough-toothed dolphins are found in deep, warm temperate and tropical waters around the world.