Dolphins & Porpoises

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At least nine dolphin species and two species of porpoise have been recorded around the Falkland Islands. However, only a few species occur regularly in coastal waters, with the remainder occupying deep-water habitat. The Falklands are considered a particular stronghold for Peale’s dolphin and Commerson’s dolphin, with the Islands comprising a significant portion of the global range of both species and supporting genetically-distinct populations. Coastal dolphins in the Falklands benefit from an absence of fishing in nearshore waters, which greatly reduces threats (such as accidental capture in nets or prey reduction) compared with other geographic regions. Some of the species most commonly observed in coastal waters around the Falklands are described below.

Peale’s dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis)

Peale’s dolphins only occur in South American shelf waters (<200m depth), including Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands.

They are classified as a Data Deficient species globally. In the Falklands they occupy a range of habitats, including open waters, large bays, and nearshore along the coast, particularly around kelp beds on exposed shores.

Key features include a tall, bi-coloured (paler grey along the rear) dorsal fin, dark face and chin, and a light grey tailstock stripe. Groups most often contain less than 15 animals, but can be larger. They often leap and bow-ride vessels.

Commerson’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii)

Commerson’s dolphins inhabit cool, coastal waters in Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands and the Kerguelen Islands.

They are classified as Least Concern globally. The species is easily recognisable by its small size (≤1.5m), rounded dorsal fin, and bold black and white colouration.

They can be found in open, shelf waters, but are most frequently encountered close to shore in inlets, bays, river mouths and in harbours such as Mare Harbour and Port Howard.

They frequently bow-ride boats and surf breaking swell waves. Small groups (<10 animals) are most common, but aggregations of 50-100 animals sometimes occur.

Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family (up to 9.8m), and have unmistakeable distinctive black and white colouration, and tall dorsal fins.

Despite being very widespread globally, the species is classified as Data Deficient. Most information on killer whales in the Falkland Islands originates from Sea Lion Island (SLI), where the same individual whales return each year to seasonally prey upon young elephant seals and sea lions.

Killer whales from SLI are also encountered elsewhere in the Islands, suggesting a wider-ranging Falklands community. They are typically observed in small pods of <10 animals.

Dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus

Dusky dolphins are widespread across shelf (<200 m depth) waters of the Southern Hemisphere, with distinct populations found off New Zealand, southern Australia, South America, south-west Africa, and around oceanic islands. They have a ‘Least Concern’ global conservation status.

The dusky dolphin typically inhabits more offshore waters around the Falklands. However, since May 2017, a single distinctive dusky dolphin has been repeatedly observed in the coastal waters of Port William, Kidney Cove and Volunteer Point (north-east Falklands) in amongst Peale’s dolphins. This animal can be distinguished from Peale’s dolphins by its paler face and contrastingly black beak.

Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas

The long-finned pilot whale is distributed across cooler waters of both Hemispheres. They usually occupy waters deeper than 200 m, where they dive after squid and fish.

The species is characterised by its black colouration, rounded head, long flippers, and swept-back broad dorsal fin. They reach lengths of over 5 m and 6 m for females and males respectively.

In the Falklands, pilot whales are well known for mass strandings, where groups of up to several hundred animals enter coastal waters and end up beached on the shore where, unfortunately, they often die.


There are seven species of porpoise globally, and all are small species with chunky body shapes and blunt heads that lack distinct beaks. In contrast to the conical teeth of dolphins, porpoises have flattened, spade-shaped teeth.

Two porpoise species have been documented in the Falklands. The distinctive black and white spectacled porpoise (Phocoena dioptrica) is widely distributed across the cold waters of the Southern Hemisphere. Burmeister’s porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis) occurs in the coastal waters of mainland South America; it was only documented for the first time in the Falklands during 2019 and its status remains unclear.

These have only been recorded in the Falklands as freshly dead strandings on the beach, and have never been seen alive at sea in the region. These strandings offer a valuable opportunity to learn more about their ecology and populations.



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