Dolphin vs. Porpoise

At Dolphin Encounters on Blue Lagoon Island, visitors from around the world have the opportunity to meet and interact with our friendly Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins, not to be confused with porpoises. There is a distinct difference.

Many people mistakenly believe that a dolphin is a porpoise and vice versa. They are very similar indeed, and share many common characteristics. However, there are some differences between the two.

Both dolphins and porpoises are mammals. Dolphins and porpoises belong to the same scientific order, Cetacea which includes all whales, even the great whales, to which both dolphins and porpoises are related.

In comparison to dolphins, porpoises are very small. Porpoises tend to be smaller seldom exceeding 7 feet in length, whereas many dolphin species can exceed 10 feet in length. Dolphins have a lean sleek body, whereas porpoises often appear more stout or chubby.

They have small, rounded heads and blunt jaws instead of beaks. While dolphins have a round, bulbous “melon”, porpoises do not. Their teeth are spade-shaped, whereas dolphins have cone-shaped teeth. In addition, a porpoise’s dorsal fin is generally triangular looking more like a shark, rather than curved like that of many dolphins and large whales.

There are many behavior differences as well as physical differences. For the most part, porpoises are shy animals. They do not often approach people or boats. The dolphin, on the other hand, is often seen riding the bow wave of fishing boats, porpoises rarely surface unless they are coming up for a breath.

The dolphin, rather than the porpoise, is often seen in marine animal shows which may relate to the idea that dolphins tend to show a lesser fear of humans than porpoises. This is often why dolphins, not porpoises, get stuck in tuna nets. For this reason dolphins are widely studied whereas porpoises are not.

Though dolphins and porpoises have some differences, but the similarities among their behavior and looks outweigh the minute differences. You are more likely to see a dolphin, both in the wild and under human care but consider yourself lucky if you encounter either in any situation.