What kinds of dolphins can you find in Alaska?
I don’t think there is anything better than watching dolphins! Their playful, gregarious nature makes them one of the most beloved animals in the world.
Below, you will find pictures and descriptions of the kinds of dolphins in Alaska. I’ve also included RANGE MAPS and fun facts about each species. And keep reading to the end of the article for the differences between Dolphins and Porpoises!
Although there are tons of interesting facts about dolphins, I kept each description brief to cover all the species. So, you may want to consider purchasing the book below if you want more information or need help with additional identification.
Here are the 4 DOLPHINS That Can Be Found in Alaska!
- I only included species that have “dolphin” or “porpoise” in their common name. For example, a Killer Whale (Orca) is in the dolphin family, but they are not included below. To see the types of WHALES that live in Alaska, CLICK HERE.
#1. Pacific White-sided Dolphin
- Lagenorhynchus obliquidens
- 5.5 to 8 feet (1.7 to 2.4 meters) long, with a short, torpedo-like shape.
- Pale bellies and light gray patches on the sides.
- The rostrum (nose) and back are dark gray.
Look for Pacific White-sided Dolphins in Alaska in the temperate waters of the northern Pacific Ocean. This species is pelagic, meaning you’re unlikely to see them close to the shore and will need a boat to observe them.
These dolphins are playful and acrobatic, often putting on a show for humans on dolphin-watching excursions. They race in the bow waves of ships and often break the water’s surface to spin in the air. They are incredibly fast and can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour!
You’ll likely see these dolphins working cooperatively to hunt schooling fish like capelin and herring. They need to eat a lot of food, consuming around 20 pounds (9 kg) of fish per day. Pacific White-sided Dolphins live in pods of up to 50 individuals.
Despite their relatively small core pods, they can frequently be seen gathered together in much larger numbers when food is abundant. These huge groups are made up of thousands of dolphins called “super pods.”
#2. Striped Dolphin
- Stenella coeruleoalba
- 8 to 9 feet (2.4 to 2.7 meters) long with a large and powerful build, small fins, and long, slender rostrums (noses).
- Their striking color pattern makes them easy to identify. Their pale bellies and dark gray backs are highlighted by a defined, bold black stripe that runs from the rostrum, splits over the eye, and continues down the sides.
Striped Dolphins are an extremely adaptable and widespread species. You can see these dolphins in temperate, tropical, and subtropical seas. However, they prefer deep water and are usually far from shore. You may spot them near the coast if there are underwater canyons or trenches to provide a deeper habitat.
They form close social bonds with their pods, usually made up of 25 to 100 individuals. They occasionally form super pods, but not as often as other dolphins in Alaska. Striped Dolphins rarely interact with other dolphin species or whales.
Striped Dolphins are very fast, agile, and active swimmers. They often leap high in the air and dive for prey as deep as 2,300 feet (700 meters).
#3. Harbor Porpoise
- Phoecena phoecena
- 5 to 5.5 feet (1.5 to 1.7 meters) long, with a rounded head and blunt rostrum (nose).
- Small, curved body with triangular fins.
- The back is dark gray, with light gray sides and a white belly. A thin gray line extends from the mouth to the pectoral fins and separates the white and gray areas.
Though they are mistaken by many for baby dolphins, Harbor Porpoises are very different animals. For example, Harbor Porpoises have spade-shaped teeth as opposed to dolphins’ conical, pointed teeth. Additionally, they don’t use sound to communicate the way dolphins do.
In addition, Harbor Porpoises are much shyer and more reserved than dolphins. Though social, they aren’t showy and usually group in tiny pods of 2 to 5 individuals. Because they’re far less boisterous, Harbor Porpoises are often bullied by dolphins.
Harbor Porpoises can be found in shallow, sheltered coastal areas, which is how they got their name. Unfortunately, this habit of living in such proximity to humans puts them in a lot of danger of boat strikes, being caught in fishing nets, and suffering from chronic issues like pollution.
While they’re not as active or acrobatic as dolphins, their proximity to the shore and slow, predictable behavior means that patient observers can easily spot them. They can be seen in bays and harbors along the coast.
#4. Dall’s Porpoise
- Phocoenoides dalli
- 7 to 8 feet (2.1 to 2.4 meters) long with a rotund, barrel-like build.
- They are almost completely black with just a few stark white patches on the face, belly, fins, and tail.
Dall’s Porpoises are numerous and widespread in the Pacific Ocean. However, they are an offshore species that hunt in deep, cold water. This makes them more difficult to observe.
They can dive over 1,600 feet (488 meters) to catch their prey, consisting of various fish and squid. They are also shockingly fast! They can swim up to 34 miles per hour, which is impressive given their small size and rotund build.
Dall’s Porpoises live in fairly small pods of 2 to 12 individuals. But, they are very gregarious creatures and are known to socialize with dolphins, pilot whales, and even larger baleen whales. They also enjoy bow riding alongside boats.
What’s the difference between Dolphins and Porpoises?
Most people think of Dolphins and Porpoises as the same, but there are some key differences between the two animals.
#1. There are MANY more species of Dolphins than Porpoises.
49 distinct species of Dolphins are recorded, while only 7 species of Porpoises are known worldwide.
#2. Their appearance is different.
Dolphins are long, lean, and streamlined with extended noses, while Porpoises are shorter and stocky with blunt noses. Dolphins have a much wider range of colors, including brown, gray, silvery blue, white, and pink. Porpoises, on the other hand, are more monochrome in shades of black, white, and gray. Porpoises have spade-shaped teeth and upright dorsal fins, but Dolphin teeth are cone-shaped, and their dorsal fins are curved.
#3. Porpoises prefer cold, shallow water, and Dolphins live in the deep, temperate waters of the open ocean.
#4. Dolphins are much more gregarious than Porpoises.
Dolphins are outgoing, make a lot of noise, and can be aggressive toward Porpoises, even “bullying” them in the wild. Porpoises prefer to avoid Dolphins altogether, and they’re much warier of humans and other animals. Additionally, humans can hear Dolphins’ whistles and chirps, but Porpoises vocalize in a range that we can’t hear.
Dolphins are so curious and comfortable with humans that they’ve been known to follow injured people who are adrift at sea!
Do you want to learn about LAND MAMMALS that are found in Alaska? Check out this field guide!
20 COMMON Mammals in Alaska! (ID Guide)
Which of these dolphins have you seen in Alaska?
Let us know in the comments!